Virtual Reality Inspiring Student Writers

Integrating the VR experience into 7th grade Language Arts classes.

By: Christine Lion-Bailey, from her educational leadership and technology blog:  Voice of CLB

Imagine journeying through the streets of Nepal and describing what you are seeing to someone who is along for the journey but lacking the visual.  This can be a challenging task as you take in the sights around you and attempt to conceptualize them into a concise explanation. As our 7th grade Language Arts Literacy students work to learn about the purpose and importance of establishing setting in their writing, it is this same type of struggle with which they battle.  Enter the role of Virtual Reality.

In an effort to allow students an immersive experience in recognizing what makes for good descriptors of setting in their writing, our 7th grade LAL classes embarked upon a VR journey as an exercise in attention to detail.  Visiting the VR Lab during one of their learning blocks, students were immersed in a Virtual Reality experience that challenged them to observe their surroundings. Utilizing two particular experiences, students were presented with options as to their preferred environment.  Some students chose to immerse themselves in an underwater experience via “The Blu” while others opted to explore areas of our global community via “Google Earth”.

The Blu provides an immersive VR experience where participants can explore the ocean ecosystem by navigating through various habitats under the surface of the sea.  With four different options, participants can explore varying species of marine life, the delicate ecosystem of a reef structure, the adaptable environment offered by a shipwreck, and interact with a variety of animals as they navigate through the experience.  The students who were immersed in this experience were asked to call upon the details of what they were seeing in ways that paint a picture for their peers, or subsequently, in their writing, for their readers. The Blu is an incredibly vivid and high quality underwater experience that establishes a setting unimaginable to the inexperienced mind.  Students were astounded at what they were seeing and experiencing, learning how powerful setting can become when offered in such a vivid manner. The expectation was such that students would transfer this understanding of the importance of details into their writing.

While several students chose the underwater exploration of The Blu, others chose to immerse themselves in the global community in a means that extends far beyond the town in which they live.  With the ability to easily navigate the Earth and “fly” into different locations, the Google Earth VR experience encouraged participants to choose a location and approach it with eyes on the details.  Some students chose to visit major cities, such as New York or Paris. In these visits, students were able to hover above the city, zoom down and walk in a street view perspective, and adventure through local neighborhoods in which they could experience the culture and people of these global communities.  This experience challenged students to make observations about the setting of that city in a way that defined it as unique. Other students chose to visit natural phenomenons such as the Grand Canyon and Niagara Falls while still others chose man-made historical landmarks like Machu Picchu or the Egyptian pyramids.  Regardless of where students chose to travel, the emphasis of the experience was on collecting the visual data and articulating it in a way that paints a picture of the setting. This experience heightened students’ sensitivity to the role that detail plays in establishing setting in one’s writing.

This immersive experience of blending Virtual Reality exploration with a Language Arts task based learning experience has proven to be a fruitful and exciting partnership.  What was once a lesson featuring still images projected upon a whiteboard with noted observations has been reborn as an immersive journey where the skill of observation was employed in a manner that drew parallels to the objective of the Language Arts lesson.  While it is true that we are using VR with our students because it is innovative and future ready in nature, it is the underlying focus on global awareness and fostering understanding and empathy for our global communities, both cultures and ecosystems, that provides the true impact of learning.  The more that we, as educators, can expose young minds to the world beyond the community in which they live and understand, the more we can prepare them to be responsible, compassionate, and productive global citizens.

Connect with Christine Lion-Baley:

Twitter:  @clionbailey

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Website:  (my blog is linked to my website)

Google+:  +ChristineLionBailey