Previous to the fall of 2019, my understanding of virtual reality (VR) was limited to a vague connection to the video games my students played. All of that changed when I was challenged by Tom and Judy Kuster to consider how VR could be applied to the elementary and secondary classroom. I accepted the challenge as part of the curriculum in the course I teach to pre-service teachers at Bethany Lutheran College called Technology and Media. This course is required for all pre-service teachers in all Education programs.
At the beginning of the course, we brainstormed ideas where taking a virtual adventure would expand student thinking and enhance learning. Once some potential scenarios were decided upon, students were assigned to teams to learn more about the VR potential. The teams created a lesson or series of lessons that incorporated travel to those VR locations for elementary or secondary content classes. Some students adventured under the ocean, others travelled to Italy, and another group undertook a professional development opportunity for active shooter training using the VR program used by the DEA.
While our group benefited greatly by having access to Oculus headsets we also implemented lessons that used affordable cardboard viewers. At Bethany, we are blessed to have a master of VR on faculty, Brian Klebig. Dr. Klebig was able to meet with each team and advise them on the VR aspect of their lessons.
While COVID prevented our students from demonstrating their lessons at the Christ in Media event in April 2020 that had to be postponed, these students who are now teaching across the U.S. have taken what they learned about VR into their classrooms and are taking their students around the world, under the world, and into space!
Another adventure that Brian Klebig and I were collaborating on prior to COVID was testing and refining software that would provide pre-service teachers a VR experience in classroom management. I am excited to renew collaboration with Professor Klebig as any opportunity may present itself as he is part of an international study team on this software. The benefits of providing pre-service teachers with realistic and adapting classroom settings in which to practice their management skills is vast and intriguing.
Bethany's Education program has just begun to scratch the surface when it comes to virtual reality in the classroom. The applications of VR for elementary and secondary students as well as pre-service teacher training are breaking down global and resource barriers.
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