Don’t be an Agent Smith - teach through VR!

Michael Britland

Michael has been a teacher since 2003. Formally a head of ICT/Computer Science and SMSC Leader, he is now the head of Sixth Form and Careers lead at Oak Academy in Bournemouth.  Michael’s been a teacher adviser and writer for the Guardian Teacher Network for five years. As well as working for Realise Learning as a consultant he has appeared on national TV and Radio discussing education policy and digital well-being.

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Image credit: Flickr // nossreh Image credit: Flickr // nossreh

On Wednesday last week I sat in an innovation symposium with a Virtual Reality headset on. I was then strapped into a sports seat mirroring one that one would find in a modern racing car. The helpful assistant informed me that when the program begins I might find the 360°, fully immersive experience slightly disorientating. Being a son of a digital revolution that for me began with the Amstrad CPC 464, I dismissed his comment with an arrogance that these days is usually demonstrated by someone located in an office that is oval shaped. How dare he think that I would find the experience disorientating? He has clearly never played Manic Miner!

Once I had stepped from the rather uncomfortable sports seat, I wasn’t left with the feeling of disorientation but one of awe and wonder – I had just experienced the future of gaming and possibly the classroom. I honestly felt like Neo waking from a world tethered to the past, into a more exciting but possibly more dangerous new world.

I should probably say at the outset that the ideas presented here are possibly not new or possibly even possible, they are simply ramblings of a teacher in search of new ways to engage our increasingly tech-savvy youth.

From the moment a child “I honestly felt like Neo waking from a world tethered to the past.” is born into this wondrous world they have devices thrust in their faces. It’s not hard to accept that students need more things to engage their interest in the classroom at the age of 11, if all they’ve faced since birth are devices that blink and make interesting and annoying noises. As such, we need either need to fall into a luddite malaise or we wrap our arms around technology and pull it in for a tender embrace.

Imagine, if you will, a time where the boundaries of both learning and the classroom come tumbling down with a 360° fully immersive classroom, where Science teachers worry not about sourcing pig hearts, or History teachers bringing alive a Somme battlefield.

The Samsung Gear VR2 doesn’t cost the earth and can be used straight out the box. In a short period of time, software developers could create applications that allow students to explore the Somme away from a textbook or the dreaded factsheet.

Would the teaching profession allow students to explore these environments even if it meant that we didn’t need a teacher for each group of 30 students? Could we allow ourselves to have one teacher facilitate the learning for 120 students or more? The answer is “no, probably not”, but does that mean that education “Could one teacher facilitate the learning for 120 students or more?”isn’t going in that direction. The answer is unquestionably no.

The Steve Jobs Schools in Amsterdam demonstrate that it is possible to deliver a curriculum almost solely through technology. Based on the principles of creativity, originality and flexibility, the schools are keenly attuned to the fact that no one student is the same. As Ofsted focus more on students learning and less on teaching, the Steve Jobs Schools’ principles fit beautifully here. One student may learn quickly while another scrambles to keep up, work is naturally differentiated so each student can make progress in a lesson.

If we countenance the idea that students can learn in environment that isn’t constricted by conventional boundaries, then surely we should embrace the idea that we should allow all students to explore their learning at their own pace through technological innovation like VR.

There is a slight Matrix-feel to walking into a classroom and seeing 30 VR-spectacled students plugged into a central hub, all connected into a virtual world. We need to free our minds to the possibility that there are other more technological solutions to student engagement.

We need to take the red pill and allow our students to follow the Morpheusian path to technological freedom – don’t be the Agent Smiths of education!

Do you embrace edtech such as VR? Let us know below!

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