Shazia Sarwar-Azim recounts her adventures in immersive reality.
I was an Advanced Skills Teacher in 2006, supporting the introduction of interactive white boards into primary schools across Greater Manchester. As an Advanced Skills Teacher, I made sure teachers were trained to use the interactive white boards effectively and with passion to enhance learning experiences. As technology evolved, so did my teaching style. By setting up computer suites, modeling the use of technology such as VR sets, Bee-bots and digital microscopes, and consistently advocating using technology and its role in improving standards, engaging learners, and removing barriers to progress.
Later, as Headteacher of an ASC/SEMH Primary and Secondary School, I introduced staff to Immersive Reality Technology—it was a 21st Century resource that needed to be explored. As our world became increasingly technologically driven, we wanted to give our children access to these resources. Drawing on a significant amount of research identifying the role of technology in attracting vulnerable learners with Social Emotional Mental Health, we set about improving engagement, interaction, and connection, so that progress could be made. The Immersive Reality experience has been used for years by pilots in flight simulators, and by astronauts and doctors to practice complicated procedures. So, if we truly wanted to open our children to the world of work, we had to expose them to Immersive Reality Technology.
The teaching and learning style in our school was based on metacognition and self—regulation theories, so the introduction of the Immersive Reality Room was a perfect platform for the pupils to monitor their progress and to plan learning experiences that would ensure progress was being made.
Teachers found the Immersive Reality Room easy to use—it features remotes to turn on the technology, a tablet computer to select scenes, and familiar gadgets such as Xbox controllers or wireless keyboards to navigate scenes in the space. Teachers were trained to use the technology in an hour, which meant they could spend the rest of the morning exploring the packages and becoming excited about what Immersive Reality had to offer the curriculum.
With files organised in curriculum areas, it was easy for teachers to find, and later develop, content. Teachers were now planning how to use the scenes in their lessons to facilitate the learners in the development of enriching their knowledge base and practical experiences.
There were many different types of scenes to be explored in the immersive space. They were interactive, giving you several sensory experiences. For example, in Geography, focusing on the travel and tourism industry, children were encouraged to write brochures after they virtually visited the Serengeti. They identified and classified animals and plants in the scene. They designed merchandise (animal print t-shirts and caps) based around animal patterns. They even watched the sunset and camped underneath the stars as explorers.
Using the immersive space gave the children a captivating sense of real life experiences, and as a result evoked feelings of awe and excitement. The dramatic difference in the quality of writing was noted during book scrutinies. In Lower Key Stage 2 (KS2), sentence level improved and in Lower Key Stage 3 (KS3) the structuring of text as a whole improved, especially the use of paragraphs.
As scientific enquirers, the children were able to work scientifically by identifying and classifying the planets that were whizzing around them. Children in KS2 (Year 5) travelled into space and reported on the Earth’s rotation to explain about day and night and the movement of the sun across the sky. They were able to demonstrate how they were able to interpret observations and other data, trends, making inferences and drawing conclusions. They felt like astronauts in space. When they touched the planets, facts would appear, and in Year 6, children were able to use this information to write non-fiction books.
Moments that were previously teachable through videos, books and photocopied sheets were now taught through immersive experiences that enabled our children to be motivated and engaged to initiate and join in leading conversations. With effective facilitation and guidance throughout the experience, pupils made the connection from theory to practice and voiced the multifaceted depth of implications the experience had on their learning.
We noted a huge improvement in communication—children initiated and joined in conversations. The respect for others when communicating improved, even when views differed, they listened attentively and children across the school developed a rich and varied vocabulary that interested the learners to use in conversations and in their work. There was a huge difference between the communication style in the classroom and that in the Immersive Reality Room. Children were more patient and courteous. They supported each other to be solution focused when discovering new aspects of the technology.
At the end of a topic, children used the Immersive Reality Room to set the scenes to tell stories that captured the interest and imagination of the audience. The Immersive Reality Room was also used to hold presentations and art exhibitions. In summary, through the integration of innovative technology and approaches to teaching and learning, pupils clearly transformed as they developed skills that they could apply to the real world.
Immersive learning not only held the key to addressing the challenges of the digital age, but significantly improved education by harnessing the power of technologies such as virtual, augmented, and mixed reality. The pupils’ experiences were powerful and meaningful, with all the young people reporting that this experience was so much more exciting than being sat in a classroom looking at an Interactive White Board.
Children enjoyed the range of gadgets that supported their learning in the curriculum, and they could measure their interaction and engagement and link it to how much progress they had made. Children reported that being teleported to new realms and experiences opened their imagination up to a whole host of endless possibilities of what the world and beyond has to offer.