As many of you will know, I work as Head of Digital Learning and Innovation across JESS Dubai. JESS is a group of three schools – two primary schools and a secondary. In the primary schools we have a bank of Viewmaster headsets and iPod Touch devices to use in them. In the Secondary we have a bank of Bobo VR Z4 headsets and students use their own phones in them. We also have a BYOD iPad scheme in the KS2 years of each primary school and banks of iPads in KS1 and EYFS. In Secondary we have a Surface Pro 4 scheme in KS3 and an open BYOD policy in the years above this. We also now have three HTC Vives thanks to the local HTC team (though we are still looking to source the laptops to run them and currently I am still utilising my own.)
So why am I listing all of our hardware? It’s to do with how we integrate VR using the technology available to us. Like most schools we are generally not in a position to provide 1:1 VR, with the possible exception being the Secondary school using the mobile VR headsets and harnessing the BYOD phones that the students have in their pockets. So how can you begin to integrate VR with a limited number of headsets available - and do it in a meaningful way?
The model that I have been utilising involves harnessing multiple platforms and devices in tandem with each other. First I coordinate a date with a year group and work with them to identify a current area of study that we can enrich using some VR. I will then research potential apps or VR content that could be harnessed and share the options available with the team. We will then implement a plan focusing on the learning that will take place. This part is crucial. Implementing VR in a meaningful way is impossible if the focus is on the technology and not the actual learning taking place. As such I will generally tailor an activity around the experience.
A recent example took place in the Year 5 department of one of primaries. Their topic was Ancient Greece so I began hunting for content. At first I thought I’d struck gold with the brilliant apps from Lithodomus who had Athens VR on iOS and the newly launched Acropolis VR on the Vive. Ultimately I decided against using them, despite how good there were, as they contained a fair few historically accurate statues… i.e. fully naked men and women. Living in the UAE and knowing that I’d be working with groups of 9-10 year olds, this seemed like it had the potential to lead to issues and I returned to the drawing board. I did like the idea of exploring the Acropolis though and so I focused on that in particular. Unimersiv offered an Acropolis experience within it’s platform which I could access on the Vive but not on the iOS devices. In the end I realised that the answer had literally been provided to me by our headsets – the Viewmasters come with a replica of the old style Viewmaster reels – one that worked as a trigger to launch an experience within their Destinations app which just happened to be of the Acropolis too!
With the apps sorted I then built the activity that the VR would frame. In this case it became a collaborative research task. Students would work in groups of six to explore the Acropolis and note down their findings on a large sheet of A3 paper. I gamified the experience somewhat too by telling the groups that their challenge was to collate the most detailed set of notes and that the winning team would receive a prize. This lead to a great discussion of tactics and teamwork – if they didn’t communicate properly to coordinate their search for information, they’d all end up finding the same facts. In practice this lead to calls of “Ok I’m in the theatre of Herodes, someone else head to the temple of Athena” and the like.
Each group came to me for around 20 minutes and from each group of seven students, I rotated 2-3 onto the Vive during their time slot. The initial student I selected myself based on my knowledge of the kids and how competent they were with technology. The subsequent students earned the spot through putting in the best effort with the research on the mobile viewers. As such the use of the Vive became an incentive to engage fully with the core task. I also highlighted how important the role was if you got to use Unimersiv on the Vive since there were additional facts available within this app that not every team would locate – so it gave your team a better chance of winning if you could find and include them.
Here’s a short clip I put together for one of the classes to share in their assembly. Note: I couldn't screencast from Unimersiv so the clip only features footage from the ViewMaster app.
One of the great things about the setup of the two JESS primary schools is that each year group have a central area which is essentially an additional classroom sized space that connects the actual classes. These make perfect staging areas for me when I host these “Immersion Events” (as I have dubbed them.)
That being said, not every school would have access to either the space or an additional specialist teacher like myself to facilitate such a session. If this is the case, and you need to engage the whole class simultaneously, my suggestion would be to look towards platforms like Expeditions or even YouTube for additional 360 content which can work on a tablet as well as a headset. As such, an activity like the Acropolis one detailed here could have been supplemented by an additional resource that works on a set of iPads or other similar tablets. Students could rotate between the various platforms available either using a free-flow dynamic or as a carousel.
In fact Nearpod have a virtual field trip lesson to the Acropolis which you can try for yourself here: https://share.nearpod.com/vsph/2LiPtDO4Mu using the code SECLB