The Integration of VR into Teaching and Learning at ESMS Secondary School
ESMS Secondary School, Scotland
“Virtual Reality is no longer inaccessible, unaffordable or unattainable. Neither is it a figment of science fiction, or merely a gaming accessory; its relevance in education is pertinent and hugely valuable. A fundamental cornerstone of my role as Head of eLearning at ESMS is to investigate and enhance our Schools through the effective use of technology. We do not wish to be known for what technology we use but for how well we use technology. It will not define us, nor will it be the focus of our teaching and learning. It will always be a resource, used simply to improve what we feel is already the highest standard of education.
At ESMS, it has been my privilege to introduce and extend the use of VR into our curricula. To date we have successfully enhanced our children’s learning from Primary 1 to National 5. By incorporating VR into aspects of our planning we have been able to deepen the learning and meaningful understanding of our children’s experiences at school. Is that not, in essence, what education is meant to do?”
The Specifics of VR Integration into ESMS’s Curricula – Secondary
In our Senior Schools our most successful uses of VR in teaching and learning has been with History, Classical Studies, Modern Languages, Religious, Moral & Philosophical Studies (RMPS) and the Sciences.
In History at Stewart’s Melville College we have visited trenches in World War One, stood shoulder to shoulder with soldiers at Waterloo and walked through the eeriness of Auschwitz.
Pompeii is now no longer a distant and expensive school trip and standing at the edge of Vesuvius with lava tantalisingly close, adds depth to lessons we did not have before. So too, experiencing a Gladiator’s walk to the arena and facing opponents in front of a crowd of thousands, gives our students a greater sense of understanding and enhanced experiences of Classical Studies.
Modern Languages is an area of incredible opportunity for VR. From my own experiences, I recall listening activities whereby I heard a tape playing conversations of market place vendors and subsequent questions about how much ‘des œufs’ cost, or how many baguettes were sold for 5 francs. I found this very difficult as I often ‘lost’ what was being said when I had to translate, into English, answers to questions in front of me. Now we still hear the conversations in market places, or still visit the town squares but we do it in 360 and so what we hear also has a visual ‘anchor’ to help us recall better from memory. Also, much of what we say is accompanied by gestures and facial expressions and this is lost when only words are heard. VR allows for realistic conversations and this gives our learners a far better understanding and experience of foreign languages in a context.
In RMPS we have taken our students to places of worship around the world which would otherwise be ‘out of bounds’, such as Mecca, the Western Wall in Jerusalem, synagogues, churches and mosques. Famously, again with footage I took myself, we visited the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque in Abu Dhabi which is one of the world’s largest mosques with unrivalled chandeliers and carpets of incredible beauty.
Lastly, we have also used VR to take our National 5 Physics classes to the CERN Laboratory to see the Atlas particle accelerator up close. This is an impossible visit with temperatures in some areas falling to below 200 degrees Celsius. The girls at The Mary Erskine School found this memorable and incredibly impressive.
If you yourself remember teachers starting lessons at school with the words, “Now I want you to imagine…” and you recall how difficult those lessons were, then consider using virtual reality. Think how much easier a writing lesson on ‘Imagine being a soldier in WW1 and write a diary entry describing the conditions of living in the trenches during a bombardment’ would be if you could actually ‘visit’ a trench and see and hear those shells exploding all around you, knowing you are ultimately safe yet still able to absorb all the emotions which flood you. That diary entry would be the best you would have ever written and one you would not forget. By making that lesson meaningful, purposeful and long-lasting you have enhanced your understanding and that, ultimately, is the goal of every good teacher and educator.