By Glen O’Grady, Frederick Chew and Craig Gall, Australian National University
Welcome to Day Five of the course.
This Will Revolutionize Education – (while we don’t agree with everything on this video it does warn us against the hype about technology and education)
Perhaps many of you have been waiting patiently for us to get to the point about how does VR relates to higher education? After introducing VR (and the associated technologies) and then describing what constitutes a VR experience, we have pointed to how VR has the capability to facilitate an embodied and empathic experience which appears to have enormous potential for teaching and learning.
Fowler (2015) in his review of published work on the design of specific educational virtual environments found very few of these studies had a clear underpinning pedagogical model. There was an assumption that because of the rich technical affordances of VR, around immersion leading to a high degree of presence that promotes embodiment and empathy, that somehow this alone is sufficient to constitute an educative experience. The implicit argument is that you can get deeper learning in VR by simply ramping up the fidelity and interaction in VR. This however, lacks a strong empirical foundation. Richard Mayer’s (2014) systematic examination of the effectiveness of computer games for learning illustrates strongly how whiz bang, eye popping, adrenaline filled “game-based” experiences do not naturally result in the achievement of planned learning outcomes.
Fowler’s critique affirms what we already know about the use of technology in teaching and learning. When designing for purposeful learning, the learning needs to be framed in terms of pedagogy and its associated affordances.
Already in the discussion forum this week there has been reference to constructivism as a pedagogical theory that might both explain and inform how we might design purposeful learning experiences using VR. The fundamental tenants of constructivism, as a set of philosophical propositions that relate to teaching and learning, can be described as:
What we know is what we construct in our mind. Therefore, one cannot simply insert into people’s minds, instead as educators we must provide learners with the opportunity to interact with sensory data, and foster their own construction or sense of the world. (Piaget)
- Knowledge is a construct, it represents an individual’s own (best) understanding of the ontological world (reality). While knowledge exists in our minds we subject it to a continual process of negotiation as we interact with others and our environment. As a society, we have socially constructed, accepted and shared meaning making processes that influence us as to how we understand the world. Hence, as educators, we ask our students to make explicit their thinking and consider this in relation to what others think. (Vygotsky)
These propositions seem to resonate with the use of VR in education. VR allows a student to be immersed in a world especially created so an individual can have a “more” direct and shared experience of something in order to facilitate their personal process of meaning making. Consider the following examples of the use of VR in teaching higher education and how they draw upon the following constructivist principles:
- Creating first-order experiences where the user was free to navigate and primacy was given to first-person points of view, placing the user at the “centre” of the experience.
- Use of simplified models for concepts and avoiding the use of convoluted symbolisms.
- A capacity to allow a user to manipulate the virtual world, for example to change the size of an environment /objects so the user can explore the entities on various scales (e.g. from atom to solar system).
- Transduction – which in a VR context refers to extending user capability with representations of information which could not normally be perceived by the sensory system of human beings (i.e. using different colours for showing a body’s emission of different degrees of warmth, showing physical forces that are invisible in the real world)
- Reification, when abstract concepts are translated into perceptible representations within the virtual world. Reification simulation of the kidney’s filtration process. See http://www.carc.unm.edu/~panaioti/Pages/B_Demos_Neph.html
- Design the virtual world so it “feels” like a space that could exist even without the user’s presence. (based on Mikropoulos & Natsis 2011 and Stevens 2015).
Plant Genomics, by our own Tim Browne, visualizing complex time-series environmental data.
While these are all interesting examples, one of the things that stands out is that the VR experience may perhaps by itself not be sufficient and need to be weaved into a suite of pedagogical strategies to be effective for learning. Some of these examples also illustrate where we are currently at with VR and education – an initial or exploratory phase. Building in, and upon, constructivist principles will require more time and considerable resources! Despite the broad appeal and reference to constructivism, there are those who point to the shortfalls (see Slezak 2014). At the very least, it is worth considering how the advances in technologies and corresponding understanding of the effects these technologies have upon our cognitive and social emotional capacities might cause us to rethink how we understand learning and teaching. For the last several decades we have relied on cognitive learning theory to inform how we design learning, and prior to that was behaviourism. The central idea of cognitive theory, from which constructivism has arisen, has been that it is the mind that makes sense of the world. However, if there is one thing VR is reminding us of that sense making is an embodied empathic, visceral, engaged, “flow” experience – at the very least should we consider a broader conception of the mind body relationship (Damasio 2006). Perhaps what we need is a new pedagogical framework based around learning as an “experience” that is more holistic – embracing the internal and external aspects of experience (Parrish 2010). What do you think?
What pedagogies might work in VR? Post your thoughts in the forum
- Collaborative learning
- Case studies
- Peer learning
- Enquiry based learning
- Problem based learning
- Project based learning
Are new pedagogies (and theories of learning and teaching) needed today?
Damasio, A. R. (2006). Descartes’ error. Random House.Fowler, C. (2015). Virtual reality and learning: Where is the pedagogy? British journal of educational technology, 46(2), 412-422.
Mayer Richard. E. (2014) Computer Games For Learning: An Evidence Based Approach MIT Press. Cambridge.
Mikropoulos, T. A., & Natsis, A. (2011). Educational virtual environments: A ten-year review of empirical research (1999–2009). Computers & Education, 56(3), 769-780.
Parrish, P., Wilson, B. G., & Dunlap, J. C. (2011). Learning experience as transaction: A framework for instructional design. Educational Technology, 51 (2), 15-22.
Slezak, P. (2014). Appraising Constructivism in Science Education. In International Handbook of Research in History, Philosophy and Science Teaching (pp. 1023-1055). Springer Netherlands.
Stevens, Jonathan A., and J. Peter Kincaid. (2015). “The relationship between presence and performance in virtual simulation training.” Open Journal of Modelling and Simulation 3, no. 02 :41.