VR and lesson self-review

Have been experimenting with ideas for the use of VR kit in schools for a while now.  So far, my focus has been on some uses in Art, uses in Design Technology plus also in History and Geography.   The other day however I thought of another possible application focussed on pedagogy and self-review.

In terms of pedagogy, one of the most powerful tools in terms of supporting improvement has always been that of peer or self-review.  Now I am not talking high pressure lesson observation here, I am talking constructive low threat observations where colleagues sit in and watch each other teach then discuss.   I remember spending time as an IT teacher watching a colleague teach History, and I remember taking much away from his approach, which was very different to mine at the time.

The challenge here however has always been that of inviting someone in to watch your lesson.   For some this can feel somewhat daunting.   It is also important to acknowledge that we are all individuals so just because someone else prefers an approach to teaching, behaviour management, etc, doesn’t necessarily mean it is right for you.  

While working with teachers some years ago this brought me to the use of video footage where a camera was placed in the room, under agreement with the teacher and then they could watch the footage back and conduct a self-review.     This largely got over the issue of reluctance or nervousness in relation to having someone else in the classroom observing.   It wasn’t however a perfect solution as video footage is the limited view it presents.   It can be focussed on the front of the room, if there is one, but that misses out the edges of the class or it could be a wide angle, but then loses the detail.    Two camera setups would help address this however result in additional cost plus setup requirements as well as the potential need to edit the footage together for review.

So where does VR come in?

My thought therefore is the use of a 360-degree camera to take the video with the camera sat in the centre of the room as much as is possible.    The footage can then be either viewed on a PC, using VLC for example which allows you to pan around, or better still uploaded to a VR headset such as the Oculus Quest 2, where the teacher can then sit virtually in their own lesson and look around as the lesson progresses.  Basicallly this allows the teacher to put themselves back in the lesson but from the viewpoint of a student, dependent on the location of the camera, but able to look around the room as needed.    Looking at Hattie’s Visible Learning research (see more here) “video review of lessons” has a high effect size of 0.88 and that would have been based on standard video camera based footage so my hope would be that 360-degree based footage would be equally effective if not more.


So cost is an issue here as you need the camera however the VR headset is an optional although nice to have.   The next issue is the fact that having a camera in the room may encourage students to play up to the camera, however I think this can be managed and if usage became common students would grow accustomed and therefore eventually ignore the cameras presence.

And when using the little Theta 360 camera I am currently looking to use the recording is limited to 25mins per recording which represents only a fragment rather than the full length of a lesson.


Now at this point this is only an idea which I am looking to experiment with.  My thinking is that anything that supports self-review of teaching and learning will have potential for significant impact.  Whether the VR element adds enough additional impact over the lower cost video solutions, I am unsure of, however I am equally unsure of the potential benefits of a more immersive lesson review experience.   

So, for now its onwards with the experimentation.


A VR Conference

Engage_Tablet_2019-09-28_18-55-50Attended my first ever event in VR on Saturday evening, listening to Steve Bambury discuss his views on VR in education.

The Engage platform used for the session was reasonable intuitive to use with a limited set of controls to get used to.     You can easily wander around within the presentation environment or can make use of the ability to teleport as you can in lots of VR apps.    Engage also comes with a short tutorial, which I made use of, to help you get used to how things work.

Within the platform the event organiser has the ability to display slides which in the event I attended were displayed on a big screen towards the back of the environment.   The organiser can also mute or unmute attendees which is useful in avoiding audio issues and in particular audio feedback.

My Selfie in VR

Through their controllers attendees are easily able to make use of common hand gestures including raising a hand to ask a question, waving and pointing at objects or people as needed.   You can also bring up a virtual tablet device which allows you to capture photos from the session, or even a selfie or two, as well as take notes and access your settings.

For me one of the key takeaways from the session was the ability to collaborate across distance.  In this case Steve was in the UAE while I was in the UK.  Am not sure where some of the other attendees were from however I suspect some US attendees may have been present.   Clearly VR allows people to discuss or work collaboratively independent of distance although time zone would need to be considered.      Another advantage I can see was the openness of the environment which to me would facilitate students exploring locations, ideas and concepts with a degree to freedom which is not easily replicable in the real world.

Engage_Tablet_2019-09-28_16-38-46.pngIt should also be noted that VR allows you to replay previous events, such as being able to step back into the presentation at a later date, viewing it from a different perspective or just revisiting or revising the content.    This might be useful in terms of reviewing a session, its successes and challenges, prior to identifying next steps or areas for improvement.   Additionally, just prior to the session, I explored some of the pre-prepared content which comes with Engage, such as a David Attenborough presentation focussing on Dinosaurs.    There appeared to be lots of content to view being a mix of proper VR experiences and 360 degree videos.   I expect with a bit more time I will explore some of this content.

Overall I enjoyed the experience and can see how it might be useful for CPD and for collaborative activities with students.   I think my next step will be to play with creating my own event and how this would work, with a particular focus on how students might interact and work together within a Engage environment.






A bit more VR

Once again decided to experiment with the VR this week, this time trying two new apps although both this time were paid apps.   The apps in question were Gravity Sketch and Masterpiece VR.    In both cases I didn’t have too long to experiment with them so the below are just my initial impressions.

gravitysketchStarting with gravity sketch, the first thing I found was that the app seems to be very powerful and with that comes a complex set of controls.  This is an app you would need to spend some time with to properly get to grips with it before being able to confidently use it.    I found myself quickly able to draw various shapes and models reasonably easily however I think trying to make a larger product from these shapes would take me a greater among of time.   I particularly like the tool that allowed me to extrude a shape.   I found myself quickly making the body for chess pieces, something which isn’t quite as easy to do when you are limited to primitive shapes as you are in some other apps I have tried.   I can see this app having great potential in Design Technology lessons in particular.

masterpieceVRMasterpiece VR, I felt, wasn’t quite as powerful in terms of the tools available when compared with Gravity sketch however as a result it has an easier user interface to get to grips with.   I was quickly working with virtual clay and making a sculpture.  I could easily edit my sculpture cutting sections away or moulding areas to suit my needs much in the same way I would envisage you would work with real clay.  Note: I have little experience of working with clay sculptures so I may be totally wrong on that point.     Now I do not attest to being an artist in any shape or form, however I was easily able to create the start of a basic sculpture.  As such I believe this app could easily be used by students in art lessons to develop much more impressive creations than anything I might be able to achieve.   This is definitely an app where experimentation could be encouraged without the need for significant training in advance.

In both of the above apps the tools are provided to help students get to grips with the ability to create within a 3D virtual space.   As this kind of working becomes more common within the creative, the design and the entertainment industries I think it is useful to introduce students during their format education.



More thoughts on VR: Free VR apps

This morning I continued my experimentation with the HP WMR headset I am currently playing with, trying the below apps:

  • Home: A VR Spacewalk
  • Sharecare VR
  • Geogebra Mixed Reality
  • VR Museum of Fine Art
  • Google Earth VR

I picked the above due to being free and also being listed by Steve Bambury on his list of Educational VR Apps.

20190908_101117_MixedRealityThe first app I tried is one I had tried in an initial demo I received on using VR so is an app I was at least passingly familiar with.   Basically, you are put in the position of an astronaut on the International Space Station.   The app is reasonably intuitive once you get going, with instructions offered to you at each stage.    I must admit to feeling a little disoriented at times but on reflection this isn’t surprising as, being an astronaut, you would be working in zero gravity resulting in no clear sensation as to which way is down.   Overall a fun little app which may have a place in science or possible design technology lessons or even to help provide context for space-based stories written within English lessons.

20190908_101515_MixedRealityMy next app on the headset was Sharecare VR.   This app lets you pull apart the human body and look at its constituent parts including the skeletal and circulator system.   I didn’t find this app instantly intuitive however it is relatively simple meaning with a little effort I got to grasp with what you can do.   I can see clear uses in Biology lessons looking at how the human body is constructed and getting a better understanding of the various parts.   It may also be useful in Sports Science or Physical education courses.   My feeling is this app might be useful either as a starting point before teaching specific areas of the human body or might be useful to provide the context to ensure students see how individual components of the human body relate.

The possibility of using Geogebra in VR sounded interesting to me as I am familiar with the desktop based version so I was eager to use this app. Must admit to being a little disappointed by it however not being a Maths teacher, this may be simply because I don’t quite understand how the app might be used in lessons.   The app comes with a number of geometric shapes and patterns in 3D which you can scale and move around.  The controls are rather simple however I felt they were maybe a little too simple resulting in limiting what you can do.    Overall this isn’t an app I really think I can pass any judgement on; Will leave that to the Maths teachers.

The Museum of Fine Art as a VR experience sounded interesting, being able to explore a Museum but in VR.   My first issue was that the space I was experimenting in was a little small to get the best out of this app.   I suspect it would be so much better using the backpack mounted and therefore wire free Z-Series workstation however on this occasion I was wired to the PC in its desk-mounted setup.   A bigger space also may have made things better.   The app easily lets you explore the virtual version of the museum and walk, or teleport, around various exhibits.   Each exhibit comes with a description providing information on the exhibit.     I found this app quite interesting albeit I am not sure why, after using it and exploring once, you would want to then revisit.   It may however allow art students easy access to revisit masterpieces as and when they need without the difficulty and cost of travelling to a real rather than virtual museum.

20190828_083817_MixedRealityMy final app for the weekend was Google Earth VR and I must admit I really enjoyed this one.    I found myself visiting schools which I had worked with previously in the UAE, visiting my family home, doing a flyover of my current school and also visiting a couple of famous locations.   The provided tutorial easily prepares you to be able to get the best out of the simple control system so almost immediately you can begin flying around earth.    I found myself stepping back when jumping into a location on the edge of the Grand Canyon so you do have to be careful.    The limitation I did find is that some locations don’t have detailed street view maps available so you can only fly over rather than step into the location.   This was the case for some locations in Al Ain in the UAE which I was hoping to explore, having previously lived there, however exploring the UK seemed to work in most locations.   The free ability to fly around the UK and visit different locations is likely to have potential applications in a variety of lessons including providing context in English lessons, exploring different structures and architecture in Art or in Design Technology lessons or visiting different parts of the world for geography lessons.   I am sure the free form ability of the app will present applications way beyond the above suggestions.

It is clear that there are a number of very useful and interesting free apps available for a WMR headset like the HP unit I am using.   I suspect and hope this will increase over time.   The apps I looked at provide a useful starting platform once you have a headset and suitable PC or Laptop.    My next plan is to explore a couple of paid apps where I think I will focus on free form apps most likely mainly focussed on the STEM or STEAM subjects.    Am looking forward to seeing what additional applications to education might be possible.




VR – First Impressions

20190901_103040-croppedDuring the week I took possession of an HP Windows Virtual Reality (WMR) headset with which to experiment with, courtesy of ThinkBlue.    It has been a busy week, being the week before the school restarts, so I haven’t had quite as much time to experiment with the equipment as I would have liked however I thought I would share some initial thoughts.

One of the first Apps I tried was Tiltbrush and I must admit I loved the ability to paint and create in 3D space.   Being able to walk around a 3D creation, to zoom in and out, allows a level of freedom I haven’t quite experienced before when creating artwork on a computer.   I will admit I am far from an artist, as such I will be very interested in seeing how students and also teachers within the Art department make use of Tiltbrush and in the artwork they may end up creating.

The main potential for VR, for me, lies in platforms which allow creativity such as Tiltbrush as opposed to preproduced content which the user simply works through.   That said I had to try 1943 Belin Blitz a VR experience focussing around a Lancaster bomber crew taking part in the world war 2 bombing of Berlin.    I will admit to enjoying the experience and can see how it might add to student learning and engagement in a topic.   That said, it suffers from the usual issue of preproduced content in that you simply work through it.    Having reached the end that’s it finished as its unlikely you will revisit the content meaning it is difficult to justify the high cost of VR equipment simply to run through preproduced content.

Blocks by Google was my next app to try.   Like Tiltbrush it is creative platform which allows you to produce 3 dimensional designs using geometric shapes.    I found thee platform very intuitive and easy to use.   Having followed the basic tutorial which is provided I was quickly able to progress and start building my own designs, in my case choosing to create a military fort.    Sadly, I only had a limited amount of time to spare so only started to get to grips with what was possible.  Again, I cant wait to see what students and design technology students in particular are able to create.

Now my main focus is on how VR might be usable in schools however I couldn’t resist the temptation to engage in a little gaming.    Beat Saber was my choice of games and I will admit that it is an excellent and engaging little game.    Within no time I was slashing away at coloured blocks all to the rhythm of the music included within the game.    I didn’t quite expect the game to be quite as much fun as it is plus also never expected it to involve such physical effort.    I found myself sweating after on a short time of playing.    If looking for a tenuous link to education maybe I could link it to either Physical Education (PE) or maybe to Dance?

I have only had the VR headset now for a few days and within that have only managed a couple of hours of use.   I can already see some initial ideas as to how this technology might be used in schools.    A couple of ideas that have occurred to me already are how students might be able to create their own VR environments for others to explore or how VR could be used to create 3D components that then could either be incorporated into gaming experiences.    I look forward to exploring VR more over the coming months.


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