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The technology evolved rapidly, first popularised in the 1990s, but only started to fulfil those promises in the 2010s. Fast forward ten years to now, and what was once thought of as a gaming tool is being utilised for a variety of applications, with worldwide spending on VR forecasted to hit $US18.8 billion in 2020.
While VR remains popular in the gaming community, the technology is being used to create immersive experiences across industries as diverse as healthcare, education, art and real estate.
In education, the technology is particularly relevant for those studying relational vocations requiring complex interpersonal skills, as it provides students with an opportunity to interact with real-time responses, as they test, practice, and master skills and behaviours in a simulated setting that seeks to replicate real-life experiences.
At OES, we constantly look at how we can use new and innovative technology to support our partners’ online, national, dispersed cohorts of students and create rewarding and engaging study experiences. Using software developed by Mursion, we first introduced the VR platform to our online learning model in 2019 for students studying bachelor and master degrees in primary school teaching. Our research carried out during the pilot, and into 2020 through the COVID-19 pandemic, suggests that the real-time simulated environment may be a beneficial supplement and support for the practicum experience and preparation for the teaching profession.
The VR technology enables all students, regardless of location, to build their confidence and preparedness before stepping into a classroom. For online education students who live in regional, rural and remote locations and may have to relocate in order to undertake practical placements, this technology affords them an opportunity to gain exposure to what a classroom setting entails before entering the new environment.
To enable Pre-Service Teachers to experience some of the curveballs a real-world setting could face them with, the simulation is comprised of a classroom of five virtual students, each with their own unique personality. The mix of artificial intelligence and our Simulation Specialists using voice-altering technology to become the voice behind each child, the characters are brought to life; responding, disrupting, and challenging the Pre-Service Teacher throughout the lesson.
Suspension of disbelief is what ensues for the Pre-Service Teacher conducting the lesson, where real-time engagement with the students allows them to forget that they are teaching avatars on a computer screen, becoming fully immersed in the teaching experience.
Following the lesson, the Pre-Service Teacher undertakes a debrief session with a Teacher Educator, where they discuss and reflect on the virtual classroom experience, and receive valuable feedback highlighting strengths and reviewing areas for improvement to support further development in teaching strategies, engaging students and managing behaviours.
The recent circumstances of COVID-19 have underscored the benefits immersive and experiential VR technology has to offer in complementing at-home study. In locations where classroom placements have been impacted, in the first half of 2020 alone, the technology has supported over 170 students to hone their teaching skills in preparation for the real-world classroom.
While COVID-19 has brought the technology to the fore for us at OES, the far-reaching application that VR has to offer in education is likely to expand significantly as online learning opens up new possibilities for all students and the institutions that support them.