November 29, 2021

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A new immersive learning experience for the 21st century classroom

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We are transitioning from a world of passive technology to a world full of active learning experiences.

There is a wealth of opportunity for students to become creators of content, as opposed to simply consumers of content by using just a desktop, a laptop, or a powerful handheld device. The AR/VR industry continues to grow in its use and adoption in the way we work, socialize, learn, and entertain ourselves. Many AR/VR experiences pre-pandemic rested largely on the work of developers releasing apps, or one-off experiences that provide a limited glimpse into the learning potential.

Advances in these technologies are accelerating at a rapid pace, and remote learning has only hastened that process; open source developments in web technologies are now enabling any user to create their own virtual worlds and share those experiences with others. We have the opportunity to introduce these development platforms to students.

We’ve asked Anthony White, an educator in the remote island Kodiak, Alaska to share more about how he has built virtual worlds and experiences with his students.

How did you become involved with/interested in AR/VR technology?

As an educational technologist, I have helped teachers integrate technology into their practice, and have tested a wide assortment of effective tools for my own teaching purposes. But while I recognize that video technology can serve as a powerful medium for teaching and learning, I always felt like something was missing; I would teach on one side of the screen, while students passively received the signal on the other side. Even though I used computers in the classroom, many of the experiences were supplemental to a more traditional method of instruction. Despite working as an educational technologist, I had never before worked with 3D media and design.

Then the pandemic hit. While we learned to navigate this new reality, I embarked on a search for something that would truly capture my students’ interest, keep them engaged, and help enable a collaborative learning environment. In March of 2020 I discovered Hubs by Mozilla, a VR chat room designed for every device and browser. Hubs is an open source project that explores how communication in mixed reality can come to life.

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Painting in VR with OpenBrush

I knew this was the tool that would allow me and my students to take learning to the next level in the Digital Age, from scrolling for information to actually interacting with information. Dr. Keith Chan, Anthropology professor at the University of Missouri Columbia created an immersive learning environment that perfectly demonstrates this shift from searching to interacting with information.

How have you implemented Augmented Reality and Virtual Reality in your classroom?

We are in new territory in education, especially for secondary schools. My students have created a wide variety of immersive experiences, such as augmented reality experiences using the Reality Composer app for OS/iOS. My students have also created immersive VR experiences with A-Frame, a web framework for building virtual reality experiences. With this language and a brief primer on the structure of HTML, students can easily make WebVR with HTML and Entity-Components.

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Students using FrameVR as a digital escape room

I also teach a course that focuses on workforce & internship readiness, helping prepare students for life after high school. For one project I helped students utilize Mozilla Hubs to act as avatars in a scenario where they could practice conflict resolution strategies in a safe and virtual environment. The results were astounding as some students chose to use Oculus Virtual Reality headsets to embody their persona. To see more of the amazing work our students are completing, check out this collection of students projects.

What has been the most challenging part of integrating AR/VR in your classroom?

The most challenging part in all of this is the fact that I am learning right along with the students. Though I would consider myself fairly adept at utilizing technology for teaching and learning, my knowledge in the syntax and structure of many of the languages that are the foundation of these experiences is lacking. I think it’s important that students know I do not have all the answers, but Github, YouTube videos, and documentation websites do. We learn, create novel representations of learning, and shape the future of education together.

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Student testing out their AR creation

What’s next for your school and AR/VR implementation?

Next year I am very excited to offer a year-long course for Kodiak High School students titled “Interactive Media” in a new classroom called the “Innovative Media Lab.” Students will have access to a wide variety of new technologies and programs that will allow them to create virtual experiences spanning a variety of purposes. We will be helping to prepare students for a future that is deeply immersed in technology and interactivity.

In the fall we will also be hosting an international hackathon that provides a space for teachers and students to create immersive learning experiences that will be linked on a website called the Eduverse. The Eduverse is an amelioration of the metaverse, a collective virtual shared space, but specific to education. Any and all learners will be able to freely access these learning experiences as well as learn how to make their own and contribute to a growing collection of innovative educational technology.

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Printing custom 3D game assets

What advice do you have for other educators who might be interested in AR/VR technology for their classrooms?

We are at the brink of something extremely exciting and new in Education Technology (EdTech), and to be honest there isn’t a whole lot out there (yet) in regards to student-generated augmented and virtual reality experiences. However, the tools exist and are in a constant state of development, many of which are open source and free to use. Take the time to learn with the students, allow for mistakes, celebrate the achievements and share them with the world.

A-Frame is a great entry point for many educators and students interested in building immersive environments. WebVR platforms such as FrameVR and Hubs by Mozilla are fantastic entry points for any learner and allow you to quickly create unique (and free) experiences. If you teach computer science classes, introduce your students to frameworks such as three.js or babylon.js. For instructors of game development, Unity and the Unreal Engine house a wealth of tutorials on how to create VR experiences.

Sites such as BrioVR and tools such as Reality Composer for Apple OS/iOS open up a world of creative possibilities to create augmented reality experiences (keep a keen eye out on Apple as something big is coming down the road that will most likely shape the way we view and utilize AR/VR). At this critical juncture in how we use technology, it is crucial we are providing students with the tools they need to be successful in the post-digital era. Let’s build the Eduverse together!

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Using Hubs to manage conflict resolution

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Anthony White is an educator of over 9 years currently teaching in Kodiak, Alaska. He is an artist at heart and always leans towards the creative expression of learning. Anthony is passionate about theatre, graphic design, traditional media, music, game design, and 3D modeling, especially when all facets of art intersect with computers and technology.

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