XR technology has evolved far beyond its early association with gaming and niche industry application; now it’s the education sector which is reaping the benefits.
Owing it’s immersive and interactive nature, XR tech has been proven to be an incredibly effective teaching and learning tool. Driven in part by the pressures of social distancing rules, top schools and universities around the world are currently enthusiastically exploring the best ways to integrate XR learning into their curriculum.
With remote learning now becoming mainstream, the opportunities for growth in the domain of XR education and training are many. However, it’s not just students who stand to gain from the latest advances: their teachers can now also use XR software during their university training or to complete mandatory CPD.
It seems that the only limiting factors to the advancement of XR education are the unexplored opportunities and the current curriculum and system constraints. In this blog post we consider both how XR tech can be leveraged to the advantage of students and teachers and how standardised education systems must evolve in order to enable this.
Bringing XR into the Classroom
From Reception through to Sixth Form, XR can be used in the classroom to engage students in their learning. With the help of headsets or smart devices, lesson material can be brought to life, made interactive, and even gamified.
History classes could involve ‘visits’ to the pyramids, Geography projects on rainforests and glaciers could go virtual, and practical science experiments carried out remotely. When it comes to GCSEs and A Levels, research suggests that knowledge is gained and retained at a faster rate when immersive learning technologies are deployed, meaning that XR tech could be a tool used to help students could close the COVID learning gap more quickly.
Are Schools Ready for XR?
Many schools have already enthusiastically adopted new virtual learning technologies. Mendel Grammar School in the Czech Republic is teaching students about the anatomy of the eye in biology classes with the Oculus Rift and St. John’s School in Boston is using Minecraft and VR to create immersive experiences for students. Here at Virti, we’ve launched a number of exciting partnerships with Secondary schools to enable the remote delivery of science practical skills sessions and even mindfulness for anxiety reduction.
However, not all schools are prepared to begin implementing XR tech in lessons. This is not just a question of investing in the appropriate hardware - teachers need to be trained and curricula reformed in order for students to truly benefit. Schools could engage with XR and pedagogical experts to jointly reshape their content delivery and internal assessment policies in line with the latest research.
Encouraging the adoption of XR tech is going to require an initial surge of effort and investment, meaning that it will most likely benefit from a concerted push from driving forces like the Department for Education and Ofsted in order that schools and pupils are not left behind.
What New Skills do Teachers Need?
Teachers need to become adept at several new skills in order to effectively support learning via XR technology. Importantly, they need to learn how to create and upload their own personalised content - from demonstrations to quizzes - to XR platforms. This will help them to deliver their classes to students remotely, will allow them to integrate tailored interactive content into their classes, and will eventually save them a good deal of time on lesson preparation.
More broadly, standard pedagogy will have to evolve and adapt to the increasing prominence of virtual learning. Rather than delivering knowledge and insight, teachers take on the role of facilitators in a class taught using XR. They need to know how best to support students learning on online platforms, and how to enhance learning with targeted in-person instruction.
Teachers must also be prepared for their students to become more curious, self-directed learners as a result of these personalised, immersive experiences. Questions may be harder to anticipate, and students will be moving at their own pace rather than in-sync with classmates. Furthermore, when it comes to assessing student performance and understanding the wealth of data insights which can be gathered, teachers are likely to require external support. It’s therefore essential that Continuing Professional Development (CPD) courses and qualifications such as the PGCE are modernised to include modules on the application of XR technology in the classroom.
Crucially, the early stages of the integration of the new technology into the curriculum will be a learning process for teachers and students, so time must be set aside for reflection and refinement.
Can Teachers also Develop their Skills with the Support of XR Platforms?
Whilst at university, trainee teachers stand to benefit from the chance to virtually deliver ‘classes’, to refine their subject knowledge, and to work on their communication skills using XR training technology. From their homes or from the lecture theatre, they can access resources created by their tutors to advance their training and build their teaching confidence.
Once they begin working full-time in schools, teachers can save precious time by completing mandatory CPD courses remotely at their own convenience. As teachers must spend a minimum of 30 hours per year on CPD, enabling them to complete these hours remotely will significantly help them to balance their workload during term time.
The Future Starts Now.
Although still relatively new technologies, VR, AR and XR are guaranteed to play a huge role in the future lives of today’s school students. With universities and employers currently exploring opportunities to leverage the technology, it’s essential that young people harness the advantages and develop familiarity with it whilst still at school.
Now is the moment that policy-level changes must be made in our education sector so that all students can benefit from XR learning. Teachers will be the primary instigators (and also beneficiaries) of the use of the technology, and must be trained on how to unlock the best outcomes.
Crucially, the introduction of XR technology into the classroom must be a cautious and collaborative one. New innovations won’t take off without being properly understood and wholeheartedly supported by teachers, students and parents, so this support must be won through an evidence-led, carefully planned roll-out in schools. If you’d like to find out more about how Virti can support your school in adopting XR technology, please get in touch with a member of our team.