Saturday, August 13, 2016

Hacking Traditional Learning with VR Technology

Wait! Which is cooler, reading words on a black and white page, or visiting the earth at all four corners to experience the visuals and culture of the content? Thanks to a new technology, students have the ability to see what they otherwise would never have seen before. Think about it, if I ask you to recall a personal memory and recant a story, you would probably provide me with a very engaging rendition. However, if I told you to remember textbook information, you would probably only deliver facts. Which is more appealing, and which offers the richer educational experience, the answer is obvious. This technology is called VR or virtual reality.

Virtual reality technology can connect learners with the content like never before. Students located in our rural county can now experience the Cuban missile crisis, World War II battlefields, and the battlefields in the middle east to experience the high cost of war. Students in science classes will be able to explore anatomy and physiology, the interworking of abstract textbook knowledge like cells and genetics, and sail the Beagle with Darwin as he explores the Galapagos. Don’t you get it? Learning for the first time can become real, not just an article out a book that is connected to questions.

First, I must admit I am an educational technology junky. I believe it allows the educator to explore content and learning in a new avenue that previous generations did not experience. As a learner in primary and secondary school, I was very unmotivated. Classrooms were full of short stories with no relevance, textbooks with no connections, and test that assessed memorization that would never be used again. In a nutshell, I hated school. Now, I am a restless learner, a lifelong learner, and professional in the educational world who is determined to connect today’s students to a new learning experience. I refuse to give learners in my schools the same experiences I labored through. I am convinced that we must hack education and engage 21st-century learners with 21st-century technologies.

Follow me for a moment. Imagine if you will be sitting in anatomy and physiology class. The teacher provides you with fifteen anatomy parts to memorize. You write definitions, make flash cards, study, and pass the test. How much real world knowledge did you gain? Now imagine you take a virtual tour of those same 15 anatomy parts. You see blood vessels pumping hemoglobin’s which filter out carbon dioxide, that returns to your heart, and you begin to see how everything is interconnected. More interesting? Then, as before, you research the parts. Now you have background knowledge that allows you to form images in your mind as you study and you develop workable knowledge of the systems like never before.

Another example. When I was a first-year teacher, I was asked to teach Botany. Quick caveat, I had no, maybe zero knowledge, of this topic. I quickly read every book I could find. I knew every type of plant cell, parts of plants, classifications of plants, and origins of plants; but you know what I don’t know? Any real world plant information. I had never experienced dogwoods blooming in the spring time, a fact I learn from my fellow science teacher. I had no idea what different plants look like outside of a textbook, nor did I have any workable knowledge about how to reproduce a plant. You see, I had no practical knowledge to dispense to my students. As a matter of fact, my students may have left that class just as well off on the topic of plants as there were before the class.

Aside from history and science classes, VR devices have been seen in foreign language courses, English Language Arts lessons, Mathematics, and various elective courses. Imagine if you will the power behind learning a new language and visiting that country to experience. Now, obviously we could never financially support such a visit; but through VR technology our students could experience it. The power is endless. ELA teachers can place students in the contextual settings of their literature while Math teachers can provide students with an experience to generate a project based learning.

This is where VR comes in. For once, students will be able to read and experience plants, wars, and cultures. Students who were previously unengaged will now build background knowledge before recording random definitions. Boys and nontraditional learners can now experience a love for learning that will spark new career and skill exploration.

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