Newcastle Uni turns VR to primary, secondary education

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Newcastle Uni turns VR to primary, secondary education

Explores student-led virtual content creation.

The University of Newcastle is building on work with virtual reality at the tertiary level by exploring how it can be used for primary and secondary students.

Virtual reality is increasingly being used at the university, especially in tertiary health courses to help familiarise students with situations that could be confronting or dangerous to practice in real life.

Now the university has partnered with VR learning platform VRTY to build on its research into the use of high-end virtual systems for performing arts and science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) classes in high schools.

Associate professor Erica Southgate, from UON’s Faculty of Education, has been working on the VR school study with colleague, Dr Jill Scevak, for the past three years.

Southgate said that while the study produced “tantalising insights” into the types of learning VR could enable, the cost was seen as prohibitive to scaling up adoption in schools.

Integrating VR with curricular activities and objectives can also be a significant burden in terms of the time and cost for teachers’ professional development, the researchers recognised.

Those hurdles prompted Southgate to look at how third-parties like VRTY might help with getting buy-in from schools and ensuring the technology is used to its full potential in a number of different educational environments.

“Our research is exploring how the VRTY platform can inspire learners to create their own virtual environments that demonstrate higher order thinking by meeting learning outcomes,” Southgate said.

“It’s all about how students can take knowledge that is traditionally delivered by teachers and make it their own by creating interactive interpretations and applications for others to experience.

“VRTY is a great entry point into virtual content creation – there’s no need to code because the platform provides its own easy-to-use tools to let the imagination run free, enact design thinking, problem-solve, prototype and create and share feedback with others,” she added.

A standalone platform or third-party provider may also prove more developmentally-appropriate content for younger children, she suggested, given that immersive VR can have a number of safety and ethical issues (such as motion-sickness or loss of balance) that teachers may not anticipate.

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