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Why XR in the Classroom?

The other day, Tim Rowberry from John Curtin College of the Arts asked me a really important question: Why XR? Why should schools chase AR and VR for the classroom?


Now bearing in mind Tim and Jacqui Butler from John Curtin college of the Arts have been doing incredible work in the XR and in the innovation space and together we developed cutting edge XR learning materials, so they’re well aware of the impact it can have! This was and is, however, an important thought exercise to quantify what it is that XR can bring to the classroom. What does XR truly address that justifies efforts to bring it into teaching and education? It turns out a lot - especially you are creating!


XR Modes of Use: Consumption

There are 2 general ways to use XR, you can consume the content, or you can create the content and, on the surface, both approaches have merit. There is lots of research that shows how effective VR can be for experiential learning, for example Oxford university has shown VR to be highly effective for treating anxiety and there are emerging applications across fields as eclectic as human resources. In education much research points to greatly increased engagement which, of course is important, but there isn’t a lot yet showing anything about outcomes. Anecdotally programs like the virtual plant cell have been effective in transforming students understanding of a cell from a 2d structure to a the 3d one that it actually is, and sci VR can contextualise a lot of the complex research currently being done in astrophysics. In terms of evidence-based research on VR consumption in the classroom however, this will take time to reveal itself, and in the meantime, be careful not to extrapolate from what VR can do, to what VR is doing.



If you are excited about getting your students engaged in VR learning, there are some things to remember when setting up your classroom. The first is to understand the importance of presence.


Presence is the magic of virtual reality (VR), the feeling that you’re actually in the virtual world. Presence will cause the user to suspend disbelief and believe they are in the virtual environment, reacting to stimuli as if they were in the real world. It’s the holy grail, the purpose of VR.

Sol rogers, Vrfocus


Presence, the user’s level of immersion, dictates the level of immersive learning that can take place. Without presence the learning has been shown to be zero, and there are lots of things that affect presence. Factors like noise, content, audio, and social pressures all ruin immersion. It’s important to set up a physically and socially safe environment for your VR use. If your students are worried about their social image while in VR, they’re probably not going to learn a thing.


The second problem management is costs and management, if your budget does not allow you to kit out 30 VR headsets with 30 VR capable machines, how can you ensure all students are afforded the same opportunity to engage in VR? And even if it does, how do you manage student immersion levels, given that some students struggle with immersive content (especially lower end hardware)?


Consumption based VR absolutely does work and with the right environment and application students can get access to experiences simply not possible without it. But it requires schools to actively consider the use cases and the class environment.


Modes of use: Creation


Creating for XR is a much simpler discussion because it leans heavily on a well-tested pedagogical model. Creating XR experiences opens the door for project-based learning and design thinking, approaches that have been shown to work countless times across a range of different subjects. But again, why XR, why not stick with PBL for existing technology types for example? The is that creating for XR addresses a number of unique future skills that nothing else can.

  1. Communication strategies – Communication in XR is an entirely new language and right now is a poorly understood one. The best way to build experiences is essentially unknown, the rules are evolving as we speak (or read!). By getting students to build immersive projects, students access and learn the construction points of this emerging language. Just as learning a second language improves native language comprehension, creating in XR reinforces English/native language communication. And let's be honest, how often does a new language form appear and how often does a student get to be on the forefront of that emergence?

  2. The digital design chain. Too often students (university students included) undertake their learning in a silo, "I love Blender/unity/tinkercad so that's all I'm going to look at". In the real world you collaborate with many different people working with many different digital tools. The design chain deals with group work, data interchange and digital management, and by drawing from many different media sources, XR introduces students to all different job types and skill sets they might have missed along the way.

  3. Distribution and client conceptualisation – One of the painful on-the-job learning experiences I had when leaving university was to learn about the existence of the client. Any form of creative endeavour has an audience or a client - making a film or a 3d model or a website or poster, all requires a consideration of the audience. In a siloed digital approach, it’s easy to forget the audience, but XR by its nature is a distribution system, you are creating for a user, and by default you must think of the user experience. You still need to learn all the other skills, but now it is framed with a more real-world approach.

  4. Understanding of a real time environment –right now, there is paradigm shift that is happening. Industry is adopting the use of real time technology at an exponential rate. A real time environment has another more common name – a game engine, and they are taking over the world. This market is already ~4 times bigger than the film industry! We rarely question the value of teaching students film skills, and yet film is now also moving into real time technology. Teaching the fundamentals of the new digital frontier is part of the 21st century skillset and XR is a clear and simple method to introduce students to these ideas. This will impact students across all job types, from business, marketing, engineering, medicine, to film and media etc.

  5. Capturing visual learners - this is part and parcel of digital 3D environments and isn't exclusive to XR. Creating in and for these software environments produces a better understanding of 3D space. For visual learners (like myself) this can have a transformational impact on their ability to understand math and physics.

  6. It’s just so much cheaper. If you set your students an XR project in Vortals, they will spend most of their time designing, planning and creating. A number of class headsets is always preferable, but if you’re on a limited budget, a single headset or mobile device will be enough to give your students an awesome XR experience – that they built themselves!


Digital Divide and Digital Ability


The final factor to consider when looking at deploying VR into your school is the relationship that students build with technology. In a wealthy nation such as Australia, for example, it turns out that regardless of socioeconomic status, student rank at best "medium" in their digital ability and almost half of Australians rank "low". Research is showing that even if you give students access to cutting edge technology, their relationship with it is consumption based and without active prompting they don't use it to create - meaning there's no upskilling. Really, this paragraph fits as point 7 in the list above, but it’s such a big problem that in this context, it deserves its own section. The importance of creating can’t be stressed enough. A consumption-based relationship with hardware dramatically affects a student’s employability and their ability to compete on the international stage.


Australian digital abilities. Source: https://digitalinclusionindex.org.au


Creating in Vortals


We acknowledge that we at Vortals are biased - we are all about students creating unique immersive projects, and helping teachers get creative in their programs.


There is no single way our schools use Vortals, the only common factor is that the students creating. Jacqui Butler from John Curtin combines our gaming, mixed reality, and animation courses with their own unique projects. They combine the use of adobe animate, photoshop, Blender and Vortals. Tue Nguyen from Carey gets his students to create choose your own adventure stories, using rotoscoping techniques in photoshop and Vortals, while Petra Trinke got her Hampton students to build educational VR experiences for different subject areas (using other teachers as clients!). Petra’s students learned how to film and edit for 360, design interfaces, liaise with clients, and consider how to publish the content for their intended audiences. Anine Kruger’s Chiro Christian School students are building augmented reality walking tours, Stella Jinmen’s Cecil Andrew’s students built a solar bench with embedded augmented experiences detailing the process, and the WA museum got 8-year-old students to build their own augmented reality hide and seek style game in their gallery, all with Vortals.


Creating for XR in Vortals unleashes an endless list of possibilities, so if you're looking for a way to bring AR and VR into the classroom with research-backed approaches, why not get in touch.




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