Using VR in the humanities department

Technology can be either one of two things:

  1. An extremely powerful tool that improves or enhances situations or circumstances
  2. Something completely scary that can be more of a hinderance than a help.

In education, the pressure to include technology in the classroom has become so intense that many different people from all walks of industries have started to have an opinion about what should and shouldn’t be included. I could go on and on about this, but I won’t, because I want to focus on the positives of one of my own recent experiences.

As my readers will know, I am not one to shy away from experimenting with new technologies. I regularly have crazy ideas and am often excited about the possibilities. My experiment with augmented reality (read blog post here) was a lot of fun and I learnt some very valuable things about integrating that kind of technology into my subjects. I am constantly thinking of the “what ifs” and the “how abouts.” However, I am particularly excited by the possibilities of virtual reality (VR)!

Firstly, for those that don’t know, VR and augmented reality (AR) are similar and yet different. AR is where a layer (known as an overlay) is placed on top of an existing object in reality (known as the trigger). Basically, you point your phone at an object that “triggers” a response and the “overlay” plays or shows up on your screen. QR codes are based on this idea, but AR can work with any “trigger” that has been set up, not just a code. A great example of how AR can be used to help in every day life is the new feature that Google has brought out for their maps! Check out the video to see what it is and how it works.

Google Maps AR Review

VR is where you immerse yourself in a whole new world (#sorrynotsorry, I couldn’t help myself)…

Basically, you wear some sort of headset (many different types of varying price ranges are available) and then you look around using them to see a digitally built world. These worlds can be completely built from scratch and based on fiction, or they can utilise footage from the real world. Either way, this experience is designed to transport you somewhere new.

So, how might you use this in a school setting? Well, I’m currently looking into its applications for our humanities department. For example…

We recently took our three year 9 geography classes on an excursion to Mary Cairncross Raiforest Reserve up on the Maleny Plateau. It was a great day and the volunteers and staff there were brilliant. While we were there, I took our newly purchased 360 degree camera with me to film some footage of us walking along the tracks. When we returned to school, the aim was to get the footage, edit it (and by edit I mean trim off the bits of me trying to get the camera rolling <insert eye roll here>), and load it onto a VR headset. I then planned to have people be able to view the rainforest excursion footage through the headset while they visited the school on Open Day AND IT WORKED! (By the way, I’ve got videos at the bottom of this article that are videos [not by me] of the technology I used to do this).

To get this all to work I had to do some serious Googling, dig deep and call on years of building patience. Once I figured it out it was dead easy, but having to consult many different “how to” videos and articles and instructions from the two different pieces of technology and then throw in that I have a Mac and the headset was an android… Let’s just say I had to think strategically about how I needed to tackle this. Anyway! I got it to work in the end and I have not felt that proud since I figured out our gym website (read about that here) – I actually got a little teary over my triumph. I think’s it’s because in my head I thought it’d work but when things got hard I had moments of doubt and I started thinking that I’d spent all this money on something that wouldn’t work the way I thought it would. Turns out my understanding of technology is better than I thought!

So, the reaction at Open Day? There were so many “wows!” when I placed the headset on the next child in line. Parents were asking great questions and the fact that I was showing them footage from one of our excursions made it all the more impressive. Honestly, it was one of the proudest moments I’ve had in teaching so far.

But wait! How does this apply to teaching? I plan to experiment with virtual tours! Imagine, you’ve just visited a place, like a rainforest, and it was so amazing that you struggled to take it all in OR you missed out on the visit. I hope to be able to edit the footage to add voice overs to direct attention to certain elements of the rainforest. This would mean that my students would be able to consolidate what they’d seen on excursion with the information I could reinforce with my own teaching. I know that this is only the beginning and that there are so many other applications I could use this for, but I’m excited by the possibilities!

At the moment, we only own one 360 degree camera, and two VR headsets (same brand). I know that this will limit their uses in a class setting, but I am so glad that we’ve started to reach out and try new things. We’re in talks with companies regarding potential class sets of VR headsets (different brand, different purposes) and I’ll always keep looking forward to the next thing. After all, the nature of new technology is that by the time you master what you’ve got, the next thing is available.

I look forward to continuing to experiment. I am excited by the work we’re doing at school in this space. I’m even more excited by the generosity of other schools that are

Insta360 One X Promotional Video
Oculus Go Promotional Video

Cover Image by Pexels from Pixabay

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