The worldwide COVID pandemic significantly accelerated the use of both state of the art virtual reality and legacy multimedia remote learning for businesses, professionals and academic students alike.
As we approach the one year anniversary of the pandemic, what have parents of school age students experienced, faced with adopting home schooling or remote learning solutions to stay safe during the pandemic?
Taylor Roatch shares her experience, lessons learned, and talks about what may lie ahead for parents and students that are engaging virtual reality and remote learning as educational solutions.
Jim: Taylor, the COVID pandemic has significantly impacted parents, children, teachers, and school districts worldwide. What has your experience been with continuing the education of your children?
Taylor: Last March, countless students in America left school for spring break and they never went back. The future looked bleak in regards to the SARS-Cov-2 virus outbreak, if drastic actions weren’t taken to mitigate the spread of the virus. In an effort to ‘flatten the curve’, schools across the nation shut down, turning to cobbled-together remote learning models to get students through the rest of the school year.
Schools turned to Google Classrooms, Zoom meetings, learning websites, and other apps to teach in a brand new way. The transition to remote learning wasn’t pretty for most schools, despite heroic efforts from school boards, administration, and teachers.
Remote school would have been nearly impossible without the sweeping use of technology. Over-burdened internet providers across the country and their customers, felt the bandwidth crunch of entire communities of children engaging in video chats all day long.
Parents struggled to find the time between work and their other tasks to help children get through their school day, obtain necessary technology and internet connectivity, if those things weren’t already in place, and bear the financial burden that the pandemic has placed on many across the globe.
School districts, especially those with a device ratio under 1:1, struggled to provide students with the tools they needed. They went back and forth with governing bodies on how to assign class credits and meet requirements.
Teachers had to learn how to teach in a whole new way. Some school districts required children to be online on video calls with their teachers for hours every day. Some districts required daily interaction with teachers and classmates, via video chat or forum-like online class conversations. Other school districts provided assignments, with children and parents left to their own devices on how to complete the school work that was assigned. Regardless of the methodology, we can all rest assured there’s not a single teacher in the country teaching at an in-person school who would say the transition was easy.
When the ’20-’21 school year began, it was more of the same for many schools and the students. Remote or hybrid learning was continued in many districts. Schools that were able to bring students back in-person know that their days in the building are likely numbered based on rising Covid-19 infection rates. Distance learning is here to stay on some level, and even after the pandemic subsides, it’s likely that the way we think about ‘school’ won’t be the same.
Jim: What's been a significant issue with public schools transitioning to a remote-learning approach?
Taylor: Translating the traditional school model into a virtual one has been a real issue. Some districts spent the summer building online learning platforms to accommodate distance learning while others are still relying on publicly available tools. Regardless of which they’re using, though, we’re finding that the online version of in-person school isn’t effective for many types of learners.
In a survey of teachers in distance learning models, 2/3 of teachers stated that students were less engaged during online lessons than during in-person lessons. In that same survey, many teachers also stated that they needed help getting and keeping kids engaged. For many younger students, the online model meant that though their teacher was handing down assignments, parents were doing much of the teaching and engaging.
Jim: How do you see virtual reality in education solving some of the problems presented by legacy distance learning practices?
Taylor: VR has the potential to solve many of the problems that distance learning presented. With a lack of engagement being one the biggest issues faced, it’s really a brilliant solution. A virtual classroom space that provides the same type of engagement that occurs in real-life learning with easy access to interactive learning tools has the potential to revolutionize distance learning.
Once students are back in the classroom, the potential doesn’t diminish. Immersive learning benefits students of all learning styles, and the interactive environments that are possible in VR spaces could lead to better student engagement.
VR also has the potential to provide students with better learning experiences on a smaller budget. For example, a STEM project that required expensive materials in a physical space could become a lot less expensive in VR.
VR in schools isn’t a new concept, but the need for and potential applications for it have become clearer as the pandemic has worn on. As VR equipment becomes more accessible and affordable and VR applications get better and better, doors open to VR learning for students at all levels.
Jim: I agree. I've been engaged throughout my career as an instructional designer and educator for academic and professional institutions. As a life-long learner, I've been on the receiving end of many educational strategies that strive to maximize transfer of knowledge and experiential learning to students.
Legacy distance learning models never really did excite me, though they did provide significant benefits for institutions, teachers and students alike.
In 2019, when I had my first experience with VR education, thanks to an introductory program presented by Educators in VR, I really got excited by the potential for educating in academic and professional venues.
Thanks to the imagination and commitment of Educators in VR co-founders Lorelle VanFossen and Daniel Dyboski-Bryant, the Educators in VR team and community guides and supports educators and students worldwide, on the potential and possibilities of learning in virtual reality spaces.
Taylor: The potential for VR applications in learning doesn’t stop at the school doors. There’s a wealth of potential in the professional learning arena for VR, too.
Onboarding during the pandemic has presented a lot of challenges for companies, especially companies where employees are working from home.
A more interactive VR experience, rather than a flat, boring PowerPoint presentation, could help new employees retain information they need to do their jobs.
For positions where physical training is necessary, whether it’s to learn how to carry out job tasks, operate machines, or cover safety materials, VR provides an opportunity to allow training to be done from a distance.
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