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Learning Comes Alive with Virtual Reality and Other Audio/Visual Technologies

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A frog appears to float in midair. Using a stylus, a seventh-grader wearing “driver glasses” separates the amphibian’s skeleton from its musculature and holds it aloft. 

It may sound like something out of a mad-scientist video game, but it’s happening at Teasley Middle School in Canton, Ga., where students are using a tabletop virtual reality system called zSpace.

Teasley is one of 41 schools that make up Cherokee County School District, which is 40 miles north of Atlanta and serves a little more than 42,000 students

Cherokee has installed a zSpace lab at five of its middle schools, with plans for a virtual lab that contains 10 workstations for students and an additional two for teachers

Virtual Reality Labs Give Students An Opportunity for Exploration

Each classroom in the district is also equipped with either SMART or Promethean interactive whiteboards, says CIO Bobby Blount. The boards are augmented with ­amplifiers and speakers.

Two schools also ­feature interactive touch LED panels running SMART Notebook software.

“Our schools utilize 3D printers, promote and teach coding skills as early as first grade, and are just beginning to explore augmented and virtual reality technologies,” Blount says.

Cherokee is one of many districts nationwide that are using interactive displays and other audio and tactile technologies to get students more engaged with science, technology, engineering, math and other subjects. But these technologies are also a pathway to something larger.

“We want them to be smart learners and figure out how to apply what they’ve learned in real-life scenarios,” Blount says. “We believe technologies that offer immersive, audiovisual and tactile experiences are the future.”

Virtual Reality Gives STEM New Life For Students

Inside the lab at Teasley, each workstation consists of an all-in-one PC with a 24-inch screen tilted at a 45-degree angle, a connected stylus and a pair of 3D glasses

Sensors on the PC track the position of the stylus and the glasses, allowing applications to create images that appear to float between the student and the screen.

Three students sit at each workstation; two wear standard 3D glasses and look on as the third student handles the stylus and dissects a virtual frog, examines the earth’s inner core or explores a medieval castle.

Some teachers use zSpace in combination with a portable 3D presentation system that allows them to share virtual images with the entire class.

Others use wall-mounted SMART LED panels to display the 3D content. Students can then log on to their zSpace systems and explore the inner life of cells on their own.

“An educator teaching about cellular reproduction can point the projector at a blank wall and show the entire class a 3D video on cells undergoing mitosis,” Blount says. “The kids are blown away by it.”

Visual Classroom Tools Are for Schools of All Sizes

Districts don’t need to be large to take advantage of cutting-edge audiovisual technology

St. Charles Community Schools, a rural district in central Michigan with just under 1,000 ­students, has 10 zSpace workstations on its centralized K12 campus.

Two years ago, the district passed a bond issue to fund a one-to-one device initiative for its middle and high school students and to upgrade its network infrastructure.

That money, combined with federal E-rate funds, enabled St. Charles to create the zSpace lab, says Superintendent Michael Decker.

The systems have had the biggest impact on elementary and middle school students, especially on getting girls more interested in science, says Decker.

“Over a two-year period, we have modernized the instructional pieces to be more like how kids learn today in the 21st century,” he says.

Integrate Education Technology With A Purpose in Mind

Of course, virtual reality systems and other audiovisual tools that make up a modern learning environment aren’t inexpensive. And it’s easy to be seduced by the latest technology and forget the fundamentals required to make the investment worthwhile.

Educators need to start with ideas and help students use technology to address those ideas in a meaningful way, says Rushton Hurley, executive director of Next Vista for Learning.

“Whether students are using VR, making videos, or just working with chalk and slate, what makes a difference is giving them the opportunity to grapple with genuinely interesting and creative ideas,” he says. 

Making sure tech tools truly amplify instruction is a key part of Robert Dillon’s job. He’s director of innovative learning for the School District of University City, just west of St. Louis.

The 2,800-student district recently acquired a single zSpace machine at Britanny Woods Middle School for its sixth-graders to experiment with. Like many other districts, University City is transitioning from traditional blackboards to writable digital surfaces.

“In many of our elementary classrooms, we’re shifting to flat-panel screens,” he says. “That solves a lot of problems with projectors, bulbs and lighting. We’re also looking at writable surfaces as a way to help our kids visualize their thinking and collaborate in deeper ways.”

But Dillon adds that schools are wrestling with how to get more from their investments in this technology so they can make them essential to school curriculum, instead of merely a cool adjunct.

“You need to have learning before, during and after these experiences. It can’t just be in the moment,” he says. “That’s a challenge and a philosophical shift as people integrate technology into the classroom.”

And districts can’t achieve any of this without a strong technological infrastructure, Dillon adds.

“You can never have enough bandwidth or infrastructure, and just when you think you do, it’s time to refresh,” he says. “You need to have a sustainable, long-term refresh plan around everything, from switches and wires to routers and access points, to keep up with bandwidth needed for people who are drawing on video-rich content.”

posted Jan 22 in EdTech by Nongvutha

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Staying on top of new developments in the eLearning and edtech fields can be a challenge. As new technologies create new opportunities, the field continues to evolve. But whatever your connection to the industry, it is important to be aware of best practices and new developments.  Twice a year, eLearning Inside recommends five upcoming conferences exploring best practices in the eLearning and edtech fields. While some of these upcoming events focus exclusively on training, others target educators working in the K-12 or higher education fields, and some target individuals working on both sides of the online learning spectrum.


Five Upcoming eLearning Conferences

ATD TechKnowledge Conference, February 6-8, West Palm Beach

This year’s TechKnowledge Conference is scheduled to take place in sunny West Palm Beach in early February. This year’s conference will cover a wide range of cutting-edge topics, including augmented and virtual reality, artificial intelligence, microlearning, and adaptive learning. The ATD TechKnowledge Conference features tracks in eLearning, mobile learning, technology strategy, platforms, gaming, trending technologies, and virtual classrooms. This year’s keynotes include Segway inventor Dean Kamen, and Shaili Chopra, founder of SheThePeople TV, which is India’s largest platform dedicated to sharing stories about women. For more information, visit the ATD TechKnowledge Conference site.

Learning Solutions Conference and Expo, March 26-28, Orlando

Another annual favourite is Learning Solutions, which will take place from March 26-28 in Orlando.  Learning Solutions Conference & Expo is a forum for proven strategies, technologies, and practices that work in learning and development. As the organizers emphasize, “Whether you’re a one-person shop or part of a larger team, starting out or a seasoned expert, this year’s program offers learning experiences built just for you.” Find registration details here

ICELW, June 12-14, New York City

Every year the International Conference on eLearning in the Workplace (ICELW) takes place on the Columbia University campus in June. This year’s dates are June 12-14, and as in the past, conference organizer, Dr David Guralnick, has an exciting program planned. Keynotes will include Dr Meredith Broussard, Assistant Professor at the Arthur L. Carter Journalism Institute of New York University. Broussard is the author of Artificial Unintelligence: How Computers Misunderstand the World. To discover more about ICELW, see eLearning Inside‘s 2018 coverage and explore ICELW’s online archive of proceedings from past events. To register for this year’s conference visit the ICELW website.

International Society for Technology in Education 2019, June 23-26, Philadelphia

Another upcoming eLearning conference is the International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE) conference in late June. ISTE is a nonprofit organization that works to accelerate the use of technology to solve educational problems and drive innovation. Global in focus, the ISTE has members from around the world, and every June, they meet to share best practices. This year’s ISTE Conference & Expo will take place in Philadelphia from June 23-26 and promises to be just as exciting as it has been in previous years. More details can be found on the ISTE Conference site.

Realities360 Conference & Expo, June 25-27, San Jose, CA

Now in its third year, Realities360 Conference & Expo explores immersive technologies to create new and exciting learning experiences. This year’s conference will focus exclusively on the strategies and opportunities of virtual and augmented reality with sessions, workshops, products, and services targeting the needs of the learning and development industry. The conference will be held June 25 – 27 in San Jose. For more information, visit the 2018 Realities360 website.

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In the present scenario, we are witnessing industries undergoing a disruption with a rapid convergence of technologies; which is faster than ever before! These constant changes are making competencies in workforce go obsolete leaving Lifelong Learning as the only feasible option. On the other side, Gen Z has a set of unique behavioural attributes which are shaping the needs of the education industry and pushing them to develop ways to deal with them.

Here are some of the industry trends of delivering learning by Venguswamy Ramaswamy, Global Head of TCS iON, a Tata Consultancy Services unit focused on education, assessment boards and SMBs:

1. Nano-learning

The attention span of learners is persistently shrinking. With the existence of lengthy, text-intensive, un-interactive learning content, students are unwilling to sit in sessions spread over hours. To address this, nano-learning or bite-sized learning is fast becoming a significant trend to support the learner behaviour and ensure attention.


2. Lifelong Learning

As per a report, by 2022, 9 per cent of India's workforce is expected to be employed in job roles that don't exist today while 37 per cent is believed to be in new job roles. In order to prepare for this change, it is important to know that learning is not discreet, rather a continuous and connected process in which the needs of the learners vary with time and the stage of their life. Every moment provides a learning opportunity.

Hence, it is necessary to keep a track of the learning culture of an individual across different stages and not just specific learning in a particular stage. This will help understand the capabilities of a learner in its true sense.


3. Mass personalization

The pattern of customer-based personalization is gradually progressing wherein adaptive means of learning is taking over the concept of 'one-size fits all'. Being an effective mode of learning, this approach takes into consideration the individual learner abilities, and the appropriate time to consume content, thereby enhancing the quality of learning and the overall experience of learners.


4. Data-driven learning

Every individual leaves a large footprint of his/her learning behaviour while learning. Today, such interactions (learning better with video, preferring game format, etc.) are acting as data sources for understanding the learner's patterns and trends, and for devising strategies to make learning more effective than before.


5. Self-paced learning

Learners have some nuances, which are unique to them where some students slow in a certain subject but might have the ability to grasp other subjects better. Taking this into consideration, the pace of the content is now being adjusted according to the strengths and weaknesses of the individual student in specific subjects.


6. Addictive mechanisms in learning

There are specific constructs either in the content or in the learning platform that attract a learner's attention. These include 'like' or 'comment' buttons, challenges, the capability to score and compete, win badges and points, and so on. The focus of learning is slowly transforming to include these constructs in the content to make learning more addictive.


7. Engaged or Immersive Learning

The learner today desires a learning experience with engaging, interactive content that includes games, puzzles, and surprises embedded within. Hence, there is a growing trend of designing content using technologies like augmented reality and virtual reality to create immersive and engaging experiences.


8. Collaborative learning

Learning is no longer a one-to-one interaction between the content and the learner. Instead, it is transforming to be an interaction between a group of people in a community construct where students can learn by debating and deliberating on a common platform.

This concept moves beyond the traditional custom of a student and a teacher. A teacher's role is to facilitate learning for learners together learn from each other.


9. Twenty-first-century skills

According to a survey, India is expected to form 25 per cent of the world's workforce by 2025. This creates the urgency to equip the country's youth with 21-century skills which have a much higher preference over specific domain skills.

Today, learners are assessed on their ability to work in teams, be ethical in given scenarios, and to be creative and assertive. As a result, the focus has shifted towards developing these capabilities to help learners have a greater advantage in the job space. It is not just academics; it extends beyond to social skills.


10. Learning experience platform

Today, rendering mere content is not enough; instead one needs to render experiences to make learning enjoyable. The emphasis rests on enhancing the learner experience management system which uses engaging game cartridges to modulate experiences while delivering content.

As we progress in 2019, we have our energies focused on these evolving trends which are about to dominate the next set of years and we are in the forefront of driving these trends in the market itself.

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