We are currently collaborating with a school in southern Italy, in the region of Puglia, to look at ways how VR can be used within the English-learning classroom to improve the way students learn.
Thanks to the forward-thinking and proactive support of the school's English teacher and headteacher, I had the opportunity of joining a group of about 12 students in year 5 (students of around 16 years old) to support them in their preparations for their summer English exams.
The students are currently working through the topic of modern architecture, covering important architectural themes throughout last century and it is necessary for them to be able to communicate clearly about this topic in English for their upcoming exam.
In the exam, students are given an image of a building which they have studied during the year, and they are required to talk about it fluently in English, using appropriate vocabulary and accurate grammar.
To prepare them better for this, an activity was prepared whereby students would visit some of those important locations in virtual reality, as opposed to simply looking at images on paper, using the Oculus Go headset.
The English teacher thought it would be an important opportunity not only bringing students closer to the locations they’d need to talk about (thereby offering a more vivid learning experience), but to stimulate a range of vocabulary related to the particular building that .
The VR application selected was Wander, created by Parkline Interactive, which is similar to Google Maps, but able to be used on the Oculus Go.
Students had the chance to visit the Seagram building in New York and the Tugendhat Villa in the Czech Republic, both examples of modern architecture. Together we reinforced key vocabulary for each location, with students taking turns using the two VR headsets we had to hand, to describe what they could see.
Tugendhat Villa - one of the locations the students explored in their VR English lesson.
Besides the obvious fascination with such technology (in particular also the teachers who were coming in and out of the room to have their turn!), the comments were positive from a pedagogical perspective.
In a feedback session at the end, one student said how “the chance to visit this place in virtual reality makes me think more about the vocabulary which I need for the exam” and another stated how “this is technology which is good for our generation”.
And this is the point, that we must not forget that students are key stakeholders in education.
Failure to recognise the fact that we as educators must strive to provide, at the right points within the educational journey, the right stimulus and opportunity to utilise engaging didactic tools such as VR, will result in us alienating the very people who depend on us to guide them through a curriculum and exam period.
Put simply, is it not our duty as adults to ignite an excitement and curiosity in our students to make use of such technology? Surely such tools, used in moderation and in line with the requirements of state exams and curricula, can only be a force for good when preparing students within the formal education environment.
We will continue to keep you updated on our collaboration with schools across Italy.