Today’s blog is a guest post from a long time connection and constant inspiration Steve Bambury. Steve is Head of Digital Learning and Innovation across JESS Dubai. He is an Apple Distinguished Educator, Microsoft Innovative Educator Expert (Fellow) and two-time winner of the GESS Award for Best Use of ICT. In 2017 he was the only educator included in the 100 Top VR influencers list produced by Onalytica. Connect with him on his website here or on Twitter.
I’ve been exploring the role of VR in the classroom at JESS Dubai for four years now and have seen its incredible power to create meaningful learning opportunities first hand many, many times. I recently delivered a few VR-themed sessions at the BETT event in Abu Dhabi and was asked afterward about the best way to start the journey with VR. This is a common question as so many schools are yet to integrate this nascent technology. So when Craig asked me to write him a little something on VR, I thought a good theme would be the just this – how to get started with VR in the classroom. As such I’m going to share my advice on the three core elements needed to begin your VR journey based on my own experiences at over the years:
- Sourcing devices
- Selecting VR headsets
- Finding VR content
I’m going to focus exclusively on mobile VR since logistics and budgets mean that these are still the most viable option for schools right now. Hopefully, you will find these tips useful and be able to begin enriching your curriculum with virtual reality!
Sourcing devices for VR
Before you look at headsets, you need to consider the devices that you will be putting in them. Mobile VR headsets are pretty cheap but the devices you need inside them are not. Your approach here will be heavily influenced by budget and may lead you towards cheaper Android phones or iPod Touches. These are viable options but ideally, you want to find devices that are both affordable and have a decent sized screen. Battery life is another consideration and something that has tempered our use of iPod Touches for mobile VR.
Another option is to harness student devices – if your school has a BYOD scheme that extends to mobile phones. This is obviously hugely cost effective and it’s actually what we do at JESS Dubai in our secondary school. There are a couple of caveats here. Firstly you have to ask the students to download the content. This is fine if it’s free but for paid content, this may not be appropriate for your institution. Another thing to consider is the equity of devices. Some students may not have a phone, not be allowed to bring it or not have a device that is new enough to run the content.
One last approach that some schools have had some success with is to look for donations. These could be from parents who are willing to donate an old device or even from a telecommunications company who are willing to work with a school. Again whilst this is clearly cost-effective, the potential issue becomes equity if the devices provided are from a range of manufacturers and of varying quality.
Selecting your VR headsets
I’ve previously written a lengthy piece about this on VirtualiTeach (which you can read here) but I think that above all, the two key factors you need to consider:
- The age of the students
- The devices you plan on using with the headsets
For younger students, I suggest using headsets that are lighter and don’t use a head strap. This will ensure that younger learners are able to use the headsets independently and that they will not feel “trapped” in a VR experience in any way. The headset we use in the JESS Dubai primary schools is the Viewmaster.
The other consideration needs to be the devices that you plan to use. Google Cardboard style devices are obviously the cheapest headsets available but some larger phones will not sit inside them comfortably. Conversely, smaller devices inside mid-range VR headsets can leave a gap around the peripheral view which detracts from the experience. Most headsets will have information about appropriate device size on the box or on a website listing so make sure you read the fine print before you invest.
First time VR content
There are three core apps that I always direct VR-newbies towards for classroom use: YouTube, Google Expeditions, and Nearpod. Why these three? Well, they’re all free for one and they boast quality educational content that is relevant to the curriculum. Also, they are all able to be used without headsets, using the gyroscope found in iPads or other tablets to look around, which means that even if you aren’t 1:1 with VR equipment, you can still deliver a session to a larger group.
YouTube is an absolute VR goldmine if you know how to look. The trick to finding the 360 content that will work with VR headsets is to search in advance via the website rather than the app. Type in what you are looking for (e.g. World War One) and then use the filter tool to drill down to just the 360 content. Once you have your link, share to students via a QR code, email etc and make sure that they open the link in the YouTube app (rather than a browser) this will enable them to click the VR icon and view the content with a headset.
Expeditions is a great starting point since it allows the teacher to guide the students through a shared experience. Whilst it only includes 360 images, they are grouped in sets to form each expedition and the teacher is provided with information, questions and prompts directly on their device (a tablet of some kind) to help them get the most out of the experience. It also allows the guide to direct the student’s attention to a specific place within each panoramic scene which is excellent for controlling the flow of the session.
Useful link: Google Expeditions across the curriculum
Nearpod has long been one of my favorite mobile apps and it has gone from strength to strength over the past five years, adding virtual field trips in 2015 along the way. The great thing about these VR field trips is that they can be wrapped inside a range of other interactive activities as a part of a broader Nearpod session. Quizzes, annotation tasks, polls, cloze activities – there such huge scope and variety in Nearpod that you really can build something bespoke to the age and ability of your class. Of course, the Nearpod Store also boasts a huge range of VR-enriched lesson content too if you are looking for something pre-made.
Useful link: Next Level VR integration with Nearpod
Want more great mobile VR content? A good place to look next is the Periodic Table of AR and VR apps that I produced with Mark Anderson earlier in the year:
If you have any questions about VR in the classroom, don’t hesitate to get in touch with me.