Project Idea and Relevance
In our most recent Senior Capstone class, my project group talked about teaching the sciences in VR, particularly physics. Achieving easier access to science learning is very important in the U.S., as discussed in my last post. Also, over time, using VR for science could minimize material costs and would definitely minimize waste: rather than need to dispose of and then replenish the same chemicals and beakers when they break or run out, a school could buy a VR headset once and use it for 10 years. Remember that technology gets cheaper as it loses newness, so the initial cost of a VR set will likely decrease in the next few years, probably more than the cost of the beakers, chemicals, and other lab equipment needed over a ten year period, or five year period, or less.
But, does VR make the education better? This is what we wish to determine in our capstone project, and we are limiting the scope to ask: does a virtual environment produce better student collaboration? In the coming weeks, we will have to discuss how to measure collaboration – amount of body movement? Number of words said? Completeness of end product? – as well as the format of the study – should VR participants be in separate rooms, while control group (no VR) participants must be in the same room? Should we use a within- or between-subjects study design? We will explore these questions very soon and come to decisions about them.
Existing VR Science Lessons
Michael Bodekaer created a virtual lab called Labster that can be used on a smart phone in a VR headset or on laptop or tablet, and he gave a wonderful TED Talk about it. Below are some of the points he made:
- Students can’t check Facebook during VR – one could therefore argue that VR can more immersive than real life, at least in the university classroom setting, where students have easy access to distracting, personal devices.
- The Stanford study he explained found a 76% increase in post-test scores when using a virtual laboratory (as compared to the control group, who did not use VR), and a 101% increase in learning effectiveness when coupled with teacher coaching. So, according to this study, VR does improve learning.
- VR minimizes space needed for equipment: “Who carries an electron machine in their pocket?”
- Students are able to see and interact only with content that is related to the current task, not with a cluttered and distracting classroom/lab.
- The app he developed works without a VR headseat (laptops and iPads), to ensure that not everyone needs a VR headset to use the app. This approach, in my opinion, allows for a quasi-immersive experience that removes the impossible-for-some-schools economic investment in buying a bunch of VR headsets.
- Student experience level can be lower than currently required for lab use because a virtual lab is lower-risk than a real lab with, for example, dangerous chemicals. Thus, with VR, students can experience higher-level, hands-on science lessons at a younger age than they currently are allowed to.
- The book Teaching, Learning, and Visual Literacy: The Dual Role of Visual Representation by Billie Eilam talks about VR in education, and in science education in particular. It is available on Google Books.
- These shorter videos are meant for younger kids (i.e., not high school or college students).
- I can’t tell much about this app, but it may be a good app to use for our capstone study.
- This app also may be good for our study.