Promoting Student Engagement Through Virtual Reality

As the new academic year begins, teachers around the world are beginning to look for ways to integrate Virtual Reality (VR) into their classrooms to enrich lessons and provide unique learning opportunities for their students. At Garnet Valley, our teachers have always been on the leading edge of innovative and technology-rich instructional practices. From using drones to teach 3D design and coding to using Amazon’s Alexa as a learning aid for students, Garnet Valley is committed to providing our students with learning experiences that will prepare them for their future. In terms of virtual reality, our elementary and middle school teachers have been integrating VR into their classrooms with tools such as NearpodVR, Google Expeditions, YouTube 360, and more. Consequently, our challenge was to find a cost-effective, robust VR solution for Garnet Valley High School to give our students the opportunity to continue their learning in this area. 

Our journey into finding VR that could support our high school included a visit to the Philadelphia Navy Yard to experience its ADAPT.VE Lab. The engineers we met were tasked with finding new methods for Advanced Data Acquisition, Obsolescence Mitigation, and using VR for Prototyping Technology and training workers in virtual environments.  Our team also spent time at NeverlandVR to see the full potential of spatial computing and learn how our teachers could leverage it at Garnet Valley High School. 

Why Virtual Reality?

Virtual Reality is at the frontier of development right now and our technology team is working with our classroom teachers to bring immersive imagery into their classrooms. Our staff understands these new technologies are not just the latest gimmick that can be used for the shallow WOW factor. We believe immersive technology is the next evolution of the digital world and it’s our job to expose students to the technologies that will play a large role in their lives in the years to come.

As Edutopia points out, virtual reality is not new. Computer scientists first began experimenting with “virtual experiences” in the 1950s, and by the 1980s, goggles and gloves had been developed to simulate immersion in a virtual world. Today, educational applications can shift the learning process from passive to active, allowing students to interact with content and practice their learning in real-time conditions.

Studies (1)(2)(3) show schools that provide opportunities to interact with VR have students that are better engaged, are more active in the learning process, and retain key concepts due to the combination of visual, auditory, and kinesthetic learning formats. Teachers that had an opportunity to use VR in their classroom report creating conditions for all students to explore new learning, rather than providing one-size-fits-all ready-made lessons.

Funding VR at Garnet Valley

Funding is one of the primary barriers for massive adoption of VR solutions within all school systems, primarily due to the high cost of equipment and educational software licenses. Garnet Valley’s plans for funding VR at our high school began a few years ago with the redesign of our high school library. Proceeds from past Harlem Wizards games, a recent PAsmart grant, and a newly formed partnership with NeverlandVR (a company based in West Chester, Pennsylvania) has allowed us to act now.   

What Will Students Do With VR?

Students will leverage VR to experience job-specific technical training for work in the trades. These programs will focus on providing students with hands-on instruction that can lead to certification in various fields. Students will also be able to take virtual field trips to museums around the world, explore the solar system, and visit 100 + college campuses without missing a day of school or paying for an airline ticket. 

Students interested in other subjects will be able to use VR to explore human and animal anatomy, visualize cell structures and functions, and study natural disasters. Projects can be assigned to build student empathy by providing training for students to become better caregivers for the elderly or to experience the personal impact of homelessness. The potential applications for VR in our high school is limitless and we are excited to share the great work our students and staff will do with the new system as it occurs.