One of the most common questions I am asked is to do with student age and VR headsets. People want a magic number for kids to start using VR. Obviously there isn’t one so common sense prevails with regards to VR as it does with all technology – it is less about when you use it and more about how carefully you use it. Sticking a 3 year old in an Oculus Rift for 20 minutes would be bonkers but if you apply logic and pedagogy in equal measures, you can deliver some truly magical moments for young learners.
I use virtual reality technology across JESS Dubai from FS1 to Yr13 (that’s 3-18 year olds.) I use different headsets in different stages, different apps in different stages and different approaches in different stages. In each case, carefully tailored, VR-enriched learning opportunities have sparked curiosity, wonder and understanding.
If you do want to embed some VR in the Early Years/Kindergarten classroom, here are my top 5 tips to ensure that the experience is successful for staff and students:
1. Keep it short
A short but relevant experience is the best option for working with little learners. Look for something that is just a couple of minutes long or that can be abridged as needed. QR code links to short 360’s on Youtube are a good idea or you could use something like Google Expeditions which will allow the teacher to act as a guide through the experience. Another fun option is to load different experiences in different headsets and let them swap around!
2. Show them how it works
I find this really useful for making sure that younger students aren’t scared of the headsets. Show them the mobile device as you load up the applications and demonstrate the gyroscope, stereoscopic screen etc before you load it into the headset in front of them. This peek behind the magic helps them to process that this is technology at work and they will generally be more inclined to take a look for themselves.
3. Let them choose to take part
Giving younger kids who have probably never used VR before the choice as to whether they try it or not is crucial in my opinion. With some, they will want to see their peers try it first and then they will feel more secure trying for themselves. Others may not want to do it at all – which is fine! Have them ask those that use the headsets some questions about what they are seeing and engage with the experience that way.
4. Use a child-friendly headset
I’ve spoken before about why I favour the Viewmaster headsets in primary schools and when it comes to EYFS, they really are the best choice. The bright red colour makes them look toy-like and non-threatening whilst the lack of headstrap means that the kids won’t feel trapped at all and can remove it in an instant if they want to.
5. Make them sit down…
…and stay sitting down! Little VR explorers will happily wander into a wall if you aren’t careful about how you coordinate an experience! Have them sit on the floor with you or at a table but make it clear that though they might feel the urge to walk around when using the headsets, they must stay still in the real world.
Ultimately it is up to you as an educator to decide if you think your students are ready to experience VR. It may be that you decide to use 360 images and videos on tablet computers as a stepping stone towards actual headset usage. It may be that you need to discuss the use of VR technology with your management teams. If so, think about the things I have mentioned here. Have a clear plan and ensure that you are putting the safety of the children as your chief priority and you have sourced a suitably impactful experience for them.
I’m going to end with the Ramadan VR project video from earlier in the year. I coordinated this across seven year groups at JESS Dubai and it includes seven types of VR technology. FS1 are the first year group you’ll see. Editing their section was actually one of the hardest parts because we ended up with so much great footage of the kids enjoying the experience. Enjoy -