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How AR and VR can aid inquiry

Using Google Expeditions, IGB International School students share their VR creations with each other

In part two of our series on educational technology, two schools share how augmented reality and virtual reality tools are enhancing student learning and creativity

Augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR) are tools that allow students to be immersed in an experience beyond the classroom walls. “These experiences spark inquiry and lead to deeper questions,” says Peg Keiner, Director of Innovation at GEMS World Academy Chicago, USA, which uses a variety of AR/VR tools to enhance learning.

Keiner explains that: “AR’s strength is in the ability to see the complex connections between 3D objects that are often microscopic, fragile, or completely out of reach for student access. While VR transports students to places in history or locations they would be unable to visit.”

MYP students at GEMS World Academy Chicago use AR in science

But it is not just about seeing new places or objects, students can use these tools to create their own 360-degree experiences, which involves problem-solving. Geoffrey Derry, Technology Integration Specialist at IGB International School, Malaysia, says: “By students creating, it gives them another avenue to demonstrate their understanding, to share their world view or to promote empathy.”

Getting creative

Derry says: “We usually introduce new technology by letting the students play with it and explore the technology, so they learn by doing rather than us explaining how everything works in detail.”

He adds: “Our youngest learners use tools like Panoform where they can draw pictures on paper and then turn them into 360-degree VR experiences. Older students create their own 360-degree videos and post them online or use tools like Google Tour Creator, Roundme and VeeR VR to create VR tours and experiences.”

IGB International School’s 5th grade students have been exploring how to present their Primary Years Programme (PYP) exhibition in interesting and creative ways using both AR and VR tools. Derry says: “These tools allow students to demonstrate or present their understanding in any subject and are a great way for them to inquire into any topic. Last year for the exhibition, students created 360-degree movies to shown how coral reefs around the world have been destroyed or damaged, while others created empathy tours to show how the rainforest in Borneo has been destroyed.”

MYP students at GEMS World Academy Chicago use AR in science

PYP students at GEMS World Academy Chicago are also getting creative with the technology. Through its Field Studies programme, students take out 360-degree cameras to create their own experiences using the site YouVisit.

Transdisciplinary inquiry

To inquire into the transdisciplinary themes of How the World Works, Where We Are in Place and Time, and Sharing the Planet, AR and VR resources provide a lens into the inner workings of systems and a view of life in the past, as well as unreachable places, believes Keiner.

“VR and AR invite students to question the relationships, purpose, and function of specific elements of an experience.” For example, 3rd grade students at GEMS World Academy Chicago explored the solar system through Google Expeditions AR, which allowed them to see into the layers of the sun and compare the size and scale of each planet. And the Google Expeditions VR experience let students see the planets in context.

Google Expeditions have teacher questions that can support and direct student observations. “If you make your own VR experience, consider offering students a guide to provoke inquiry. Taking part is not enough, the richness exists in the reflection and discussion,” says Keiner.

She explains how she made a VR experience of her expedition to Antarctica so students were able to see how animals survive in the most remote continent on Earth. She then created a guide for it based on an objective in the unit of inquiry. “I prepped my 2nd grade students with a keynote presentation about the animals before they examined their relationships in the context of Antarctica. For specific scenes I asked, ‘What is challenging about living this environment?’ ‘How might animal adaptations be used?’ ‘What evidence do you have?’ ‘How do the animals work together to survive?’,” says Keiner.

An IGB International School student used Sketchfab to turn his Lego model into an AR experience

“Students then researched an animal, used ScratchJR and Google Earth to code the path of migration, reported about the adaptations that help the animal survive in its environment, and spoke about the human interaction with the animal.”

Enhanced interaction

Both schools use AR and VR tools throughout the Middle Years Programme (MYP). In science, MYP students at GEMS World Academy Chicago use the Google Expeditions AR app to analyse the connections between the human body, fragile ecosystems and cellular functions. “AR can make viruses and organic compounds larger than life and visible for analysis. During a recent session, students were able to touch and interact with the bacteria and viruses,” says Keiner.

Students in the 9th and 10th grades participated in a future tech immersion unit that involved the latest VR experiences. The students watched 360-degree videos on Oculus Go, created an abstract painting and experienced an African Safari on the Oculus Rift, and engaged in collaborative VR using Mozilla Hubs VR rooms.

“Afterwards, students reflected on their experiences and brainstormed real-world problems that could be solved with VR. One team developed a system that used VR to improve the mental health of someone temporarily confined to a wheelchair,” says Dr Gregory Wilson, Director for the Center of Innovative Teaching and Learning at GEMS World Academy Chicago.

“The result of the future tech immersion was that the students began to consider virtual reality as more than a video game device. In their reflections, many students mentioned empathy as something they gained from the experience,” he says.

For example, 9th grade student Regina Monroy, wrote: “My experience with Notes On Blindness on Oculus Go was mind-blowing. I never really took the time to try to imagine what it would be like to be blind. This experience made me feel grateful for my eyesight and the status of my health. When blind, you have to rely heavily on your ears to, in a sense, ‘hear’ your surroundings. This experience certainly made me gain empathy for blind people. It taught me to be respectful and kind to all, especially those with disabilities.”

GEMS World Academy Chicago students use AR to look inside viruses

While 10th grade student Casey Holman reflected on painting in VR: “It yielded a lot of freedoms such as ease of access to multiple materials and obviously the ability to easily create 3D structures. Aside from those two, some of the main advantages would be the ability for added immersion into your piece: with the viewer feeling like they are actually there. Another positive is the ability to explore an entirely new medium. This completely opens the doors for so many artists to work in new and innovative ways. You can compare and contrast different mediums in art, which is a huge plus for me.”

Designing experiences

In an 8th grade design class, Wilson says: “Students showcased their understanding of animal and plant cells by creating a WebVR experience using A-Frame. After sketching and building their cell VR experience, students tested its effectiveness by exposing people with limited or no cell knowledge to the environment. Students were able to use the design thinking method to solve the problem of increasing knowledge about cells using VR. The students had varied success based on their evaluations of their VR experience, but they were able to reflect on them as part of the process.”

At IGB International School, students have created school tours, virtual fire drills and VR experiences that show how to use the school gym equipment or tours of different religious institutions.

“In Individuals and Societies, students can create AR landscapes to demonstrate their understanding of a geographical formation or concept. While in English, students can virtually choose their own adventure stories. And students are able to make AR or VR artworks or a 360-degree video of a music or drama performance,” says Derry.

In mathematics, students can create virtual (VR) puzzle walls that have a 360-degree wall of problems, then focus on a problem and be shown a video of how to solve it.

For the MYP personal project, an IGB International School student created an online Lego model showcasing old and new buildings around Kuala Lumpur and turned his Lego model into an AR experience using an app called Sketchfab.

Derry concludes: “We love students creating as it involves much more than just consuming the technology. It can also be shared online, last forever and can be sent across the world.”

Read part one of our posts on edtech: How technology is transforming education.

For more information on AR and VR creation, visit Geoffrey Derry’s website