VR: Shifting the vision on education

Putney High School

Putney High School is one of the UK’s leading schools, with a reputation for providing the challenge of a rich and inspiring education for bright girls aged 4 – 18. Our ethos is one of putting girls first, with academic excellence, wellbeing and opportunity at its heart. We achieve this by:

- Developing a culture of intellectual agility, with girls stretched, challenged and supported by staff keen to nurture the same sense of academic curiosity that they themselves enjoy.
- Creating a warm community, where girls have fun and can take risks, secure in the knowledge they are in a safe environment.
- Offering outstanding opportunity in Art, Design, Drama, Music and Sport. We want girls to get involved, try new things and develop confidence, building leadership and other key skills.

- Inspiring a sense of ambition and adventure.
- Leading in digital innovation.

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Whilst the technology for virtual reality has been around since the 1950s, it is only in recent years that it has moved from the realms of the gamer to a mainstream audience and is now knocking at the classroom door. And it’s not just adventurous startups that are exploring the world of VR. Corporate giants can see the value of the technology and are investing heavily in the educational arena. More than a million students (including many at Putney High School) have taken virtual adventures with Google’s VR Pioneer Expeditions programme.

Virtual Reality will enable pupils to have immersive learning experiences that are cost effective for schools.Students will be able to tackle problems and take risks without fear in a virtual environment learning lessons that will help them to become curious and resilient adults. In advance of the first ever virtual reality schools conference aimed purely at the education sector, I [Andy Perryer, head of Digital Learning and Innovation at Putney High School, right], wanted to share insights into how virtual reality is transforming the face of education.

Enhancing experiential learning

Body VR is just one of the many companies bringing lessons to life. Biology students are able to delve into the body and visualise the relationship of each component’s functions with the company’s educational virtual reality content.

VR is what we’ve been waiting for because it allows us to address one of the most important (and neglected) types of learning – experiential learning, learning by doing.” said Google for Education’s UK manager, James Leonard.

VR makes the learner an active participant in their own education, their learning is led by their own curiosity. This is a powerful tool for educators, helping them to create a learner led culture in the classrooms so that pupils become lifelong learners.

So does this spell the end of the classroom teacher? Not at all, Kim Majkut points out, as educators can’t rely on VR to take the lesson: “Without that backbone of content, VR doesn’t have much importance. It becomes a merely an entertainment device.

Enriching cross curricular learning

Pupils at Putney High School stood at the edge of the rock as Tolbachik volcano erupted over the town. There were audible gasps as students watched glowing lava roll across the landscape through their VR goggles as part of the Google Pioneers Expeditions programme. Later the 360⁰ experience was used as the basis for lessons in geology as well as forming the basis of powerfully descriptive poetry. The experiential learning experience gave context to their work - as one Year 5 pupil succinctly said, “It all made sense.”

Cross curricular learning improves learning, increases learner motivation and provides a meaningful way in which students can use knowledge learned in one context as a knowledge base in other contexts. Kim Majkut, BAFTA-nominated, multi award-winning creative / director, says: “VR is a tool that can aid in developing minds and further our understanding of an endless stream of topics.”

Improving teaching

At Putney High School we are using £300 360⁰ camera to improve our professional development programme. Teachers can review their lesson from different angles - choosing to concentrate on themselves as the move around the classroom, or view any of the groups of students as they interact during the lesson. Dr James McFarthing, teacher of French & Spanish at Putney High School said: “The system is fantastic. I can review not only any part of my lesson, but at any angle. I am able to reflect at greater depth about my practice and my interactions around the classroom, a static camera in the corner just cannot cover to this incredible extent.”

Later this year students in the Debating Society will have the opportunity to critique their own performance as they use the camera to watch themselves and their audience. This objective self-reflection empowers individuals to improve their performance in both teaching and learning.

Providing access to all

Some hail virtual reality as the great leveller in education as students will be able to access global experts in all subjects with a cardboard wearable and mobile phone. The Khan Academy started out by creating videos that focused on teaching Mathematics - it now offers learning materials in over 5,000 topics for all age groups in various languages. VR could be the next evolutionary step in providing quality education for all.

The Future of Shared experiences

Currently VR is a lone learning experience. As users don their goggles and earphones, they isolate themselves from the external world. Many valuable classroom lessons take place as students share a learning experience and current VR technology minimises the occurrence of this. At the recent Bett show, digital leaders from Putney High School shared a journey to the stars in a 360° dome run by Immersive Experiences. As they watched the night sky students discussed what they could see. The digital leaders were so impressed with the technology they are currently making a case for the school to set aside some of the budget to bring it into the school.

To get a glimpse into what lies ahead for VR and how it will impact the way in which we educate future generations join us and other education leaders for Virtual Reality: The Future of Education on Tuesday 21st March at Putney High School. Speakers include visionaries such as James Leonard, UK lead at Google for Education, Jason Lovell, CEO at Captivate VR (previously Senior Product Manager for Samsung’s Gear VR) and Kim Majkut, BAFTA-nominated, multi award-winning Creative and Director. Participants will also be able to get hands on experience with cutting edge technology in the exhibition hall. The event will be unrivalled opportunity to get ahead of the learning curve. All maintained schools are eligible for one free place per school. Find out more at www.putneyhighvr.co.uk, or contact me on [email protected].

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