Virtual Reality Provides Access to New Learning Environments

Kris Hodgson and Tyler Heaton, from Lethbridge College and the University of Lethbridge, respectively, will deliver a full-day workshop on Introducing Virtual Reality to the Classroom at the 2017 Cyber Summit. This workshop, being held on Nov. 7 in Banff, will showcase how virtual reality can create new kinds of learning environments.

Why should we be introducing virtual reality (VR) to classrooms? What problems could it solve?

Kris Hodgson, Lethbridge College: There is incredible potential in the education sector with VR. Students can travel across the globe to learn about current events, or visit historical sites that helped shaped the world as we know it, just by putting on a headset. While nothing can replace the way it feels to be physically present, VR provides an opportunity to explore the globe to those who may have never experienced it otherwise.

I am particularly focused on 360-degree storytelling in journalism. The medium is the message takes on an entirely new meaning when you put on a VR headset. Organizations now have the ability to showcase their story on an entirely new level.

Tyler Heaton, University of Lethbridge: Virtual reality is an entirely new kind of experience that feels like a videogame, a film, a book and a song all in one, but is none of those things. It simultaneously provides an aspect of familiarity and novelty. This sets the stage for introducing students to important themes and knowledge through highly engaging media, while producing content that is relevant to them. When an experience is too expensive or dangerous to have in person, a tool like VR brings that experience to the classroom in a way not previously possible.

How does your workshop tie into the theme of the 2017 Cyber Summit: “The future is already here, it’s just not evenly distributed.”

Kris: We are just starting to scratch the surface with the possibilities of virtual and augmented reality (AR). Because of the price point, only entrepreneurs and those with the spending capacity are able to afford to purchase this technology right now. But as adoption increases, prices will come down, and it will become more accessible.

Tyler: In a world where communications technology is ubiquitous, knowing how it works and when to use it becomes more important. By holding workshops, creating user groups, exploring best practices, and experiencing new technologies, we are better prepared to share in the future that is inevitably coming closer each day. What is exciting about VR and AR is that we don’t know exactly what the future of immersive and interactive media will look like, but we all get to participate in its development.


In what context is virtual reality more impactful in the classroom compared to other mediums?

Kris: I’ve recently finished my masters in VR journalism, where I conducted focus groups with students who were “experiencing” a news story. Impact was seen as a crucial factor of this technology, time and time again. The experience of watching video in VR has the ability to impact someone on a whole new level.

Tyler: Virtual reality offers two things: A sense of presence and immersion, and interactivity within that immersive environment. To be able to see and hear a place opens you up to an entirely different understanding of that place. Add a physical sense that you are really there, and are able to interact, and you can create a powerful learning environment. When you are completely immersed in the moment with no distractions or boundaries, it becomes a very “real” experience.  

What resources are available to help schools and teachers use virtual reality in the classroom?

Kris: Google Cardboard is the easiest entry level option when it is paired with a smartphone. From this entry point there are many options to explore, including the Oculus Rift. In Canada, there are great opportunities available to schools looking to innovate and set themselves apart, as there are several grants and funding options available to keep schools on the leading edge.

Tyler: Initially, the tools for creating VR experiences were complex, but, as the user base grows, these tools and techniques are simplifying. Basic apps such as Google Cardboard Camera, distributors like YouTube, and 360 camera makers such as Insta360 are opening up a world of immersive media creation to anyone with a smartphone. Most of the companies releasing content creation tools are doing so for free and have large forums for sharing resources, allowing you to take a shallow swim or a deep dive into the medium. Our Cyber Summit workshop is a chance to get your feet wet and see where you want to go from there.

Who should attend your workshop and what do you hope participants will take away from it?

Kris: I think the ability to network with other leading educators will be incredibly powerful. We will introduce a lot of interesting concepts that we hope to discuss in greater detail. Sometimes technology looks really cool, but you need to have a firm understanding of how you can integrate it into the classroom in order for it to be really beneficial. We hope to make VR accessible to the everyday instructor.

Tyler: We will go beyond the mass-media hype around VR and AR to see the technology as a communications and learning tool. I hope that participants will become confident in using some of the basic tools, as well as the terminology and history of the medium. This will allow them to have conversations with their students, parents and administrators, and build a confidence to evaluate all kinds of media for the classroom. I believe that the workshop, the showcase and demos will inspire them to try it in their classrooms and see the value of this immersive space for storytelling.

Want to spend a full day learning how to introduce virtual reality to the classroom? Get tickets to 2017 Cyber Summit pre-conference workshop now.​