Week 4 [Mon Jan 30] Being There: ‘Deeper Learning’ with/in MUVES and Virtual Realities (VR)

This week’s set of readings asks us to think about how Virtual Reality (VR) can become a part of our current education pedagogy. In  The Role of Digital Technologies in Deeper Learning, Chris Dede looks at the role that digital technologies can and must take on to provide students with meaningful opportunities for deeper learning. Dede suggests that our model of education has previously existed as a “routine, almost mechanical process analogous to the production of material goods on an assembly line”, and that students are treated as “interchangeable parts” to meet minimum standards before moving on to the next grade for more of the same (Dede, 2014, p. 1). Dede suggests a shift in how we teach our material in the classroom to engage students in deeper learning, rather than the industrial assembly-line style, and he suggests we do that through technology. Teachers are invited to make better use of instructional strategies through technology to engage students in mastering abstract principles and skills, collaborative learning, opportunities for self-directed learning, and “learning to be” rather than learning “about” or “to do” (Dede, 2014, p. 4). I relate this to Gee’s “simulations of experience and preparation for action”, as virtual reality technology might even give us an externalized idea about the ways in which the human mind works and thinks (Gee, 2007). This idea would perhaps allow us, as educators, to gear learning content in a way that promotes deeper learning for abstract problems – helping support students who take ownership of their education.
Dede goes on to discuss the merits of Digital teaching platforms (DTPs), which can empower teachers to use four strategies leading to deeper learning: “case based learning, multiple varied representations of concepts, collaborative learning and diagnostic assessments” (2014, p. 7). I think it is important to note that just as in physical classrooms, DTPs must also incorporate differentiated instruction (by way of participating in a variety of activities with a variety of outcomes in a number of different ways), to provide students with the most engagement and learning.
In Bailenson et. al’s,  The Use of Immersive Virtual Reality in the Learning Sciences: Digital Transformations of Teachers, Students, and Social Context, VR technology was used to examine student/teacher interaction in the classroom by way of eye contact and tracking movement. I was not as impressed by this article as I was with the others, as I believe that the focus is still very much on teachers and how they can physically impart knowledge in the most effective way possible. While results about student/teacher eye contact can be implemented in the future in terms of specific teacher skills, I believe it would be much more helpful to focus primarily student-centric, IBL approaches to new pedagogy.
In Up close and personal: Virtual reality can be an instrument for social change, Villanueva examines the use of VR in developing empathy. Darvasi’s Five Ethical considerations for using virtual reality with children and adolescents also speaks to building empathy by placing the subject in the shoes of someone in the 9/11 towers at the time of collapse. Darvasi raises some excellent concerns around VR and ethics in his article, including: mental illnesses, psychological change, social hallucinations, disassociation conditions. There is, of course, also the issue of utilizing VR to portray a horrible event that happened and showcasing someone’s pain through VR – how ethical is that, even if the idea is to teach empathy? Darvasi is right in questioning whether its acceptable to watch real falling bodies on the news, but is it acceptable to experience that falling body’s flight through the sky through VR? While there is great potential in using VR for education, there is also great responsibility in using it ethically.
With using technology in the classroom, there would definitely be a change in the roles of and relations between students and teachers. DTP would provide students with the agency and self-efficacy to engage in class material at their own pace and in a carefully constructed online community, while engaging with the teacher when needing support. Students and teachers would becoming co-creators and co-collaboraters in learning, which would allow for deeper learning for the both of them. Innovations  in VR would provide students and teachers alike with the opportunity to create meaningful learning questions far beyond the classroom, allowing for them to become much better citizens engaged in the happenings of the world (like Trump’s election). If our goal as educators is to help students reach deeper learning, an inquiry based approach to learning must become common practice with the use of technology as a tool to that learning.
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