How Virtual Reality Can Be Applied In School

Eileen McGivney has dedicated her professional life to researching various educational systems. Her study is now bringing her into an altogether new reality rather than a new nation or continent.

McGivney is pursuing a Ph.D. in Human Development, Teaching, and Learning and is aiming to discover more about how children and adults learn in immersive technological settings like virtual reality (VR).

The strength of VR resides in allowing users to engage in hands-on activities that may not be feasible in real or distant environments. This enables scientists to investigate chemicals in 3D at the nanoscale or allows students studying climate change to virtually dive into a coral reef to observe the consequences of ocean acidification up close.

As a researcher working under Principal Research Scientist Tina Grotzer on the EcoXPT project at Project Zero, an ecosystem science curriculum embedded in an immersive virtual environment, McGivney first met VR at HGSE.

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According to McGivney, “I visited a school of English language learners and they were so happy and involved as they used their native language to solve challenges in the EcoXPT simulation.” I became interested in it as a learning tool when I saw it utilized to offer kids agency, which is so difficult in a traditional classroom.

McGivney described her initial encounter in the virtual environment as “awe-inspiring.” Since then, she has seen students of all ages express the same pleasure whether completing missions in space and experiencing the effects of zero gravity or while kayaking in the Arctic to see animals. However though these may be very emotional events for pupils, they can offer actual scholastic advantages, boosting self-confidence and drive.

For her most recent endeavor, McGivney has teamed up with a public charter high school in the Greater Boston region to investigate how immersive experiences might affect how students see themselves as scientists. In one assignment, students in a civil engineering course visited the pyramids in Egypt and flew above skyscrapers in New York City to view various buildings all around the globe.

According to McGivney, the pupils have expressed a stronger connection to the subject matter as well as improved attentiveness when wearing the headsets. Many of the children she works with are first-generation Americans and English language learners who have valued the opportunity to travel and discuss places that have special import to for them.

McGivney’s study focuses heavily on representation, issues of identity, and diversity in immersive technology. Her mentor, Professor Chris Dede, who has long been a pioneer in the research of learning environments based on virtual worlds, claims that her work is advancing the field’s comprehension of these crucial facets of the cutting-edge technology.

The National Academy of Sciences has identified incorporating culture and context into educational innovations as a critical next step, and Eileen has expertise and experience deploying learning technology in a variety of educational contexts, according to Dede.

Through her module The Virtual Self, which allowed students to experience VR technology firsthand and learn about its realities, constraints, and best uses, McGivney shared this knowledge with HGSE students this past semester.

People “get a feel of what it’s all about and what are the worthwhile learning experiences after the novelty wears off,” according to McGivney. The event was one of the most memorable ones of the Ed School’s virtual school year for a number of pupils. Not only did the VR experience foster camaraderie at a time when it was desperately needed, but some students also expressed interest in turning their work into a profession.

The online course had a significant influence on Jessica O’Donnell, Ed.M. (TIE), as she said in the Harvard Education Magazine. The developments in avatar design and the virtual reality interactions gave me the chance to engage with my friends in a unique and extraordinary manner, even if I was unable to meet them in person this year on the Harvard campus.

With a new project called Next Level Lab, led by Grotzer with doctoral student Tessa Forshaw and involving Dede, McGivney will continue to investigate VR applications. This project will look at how immersive technology can assist new workers, such as veterans and recent college graduates, use simulations to prepare for job interviews and roleplay on-the-job scenarios they may encounter.

According to McGivney, “Next Level Lab is heavily focused on learning sciences, and my piece uses immersive technology as a tool as one of the training programs to assist people practice these abilities and achieve competency.”

McGivney asserts that despite its promises and the reality that many students today are learning remotely, VR should not be considered a substitute for the traditional classroom and that more research is needed to determine how the technology can work most effectively within the framework of the current educational system.

“VR is a strong tool, and I’m hoping that the work that many people are doing on its use in education will make it obvious what it’s excellent for.”

Related News: Through alum’s Young Historians Program, students from the United States and the United Kingdom engage in an online discussion about the American Revolution.

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