Plumpton College held it's annual Open Day on Saturday 11th May, and attended the Heathfield Agricultural Show on Saturday 25th May 2019, which were fantastic opportunities for the Teaching & Learning team to showcase some of the virtual reality resources that have been produced throughout the year, and their innovative use of technology within land-based education.

The Heathfield show was also a chance for Plumpton to exemplify how the college is using technology within its courses in order to bridge the 'thought gap' that exists between land-based educational programmes and more traditionally STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Maths) based courses. Plumpton also attended the South of England Show on the 6th, 7th & 8th June, which was another fantastic opportunity to demonstrate the use of virtual reality within the teaching and learning environment to a varying demographic.

Plumpton's VR display at the South of England Show, with an example 'Virtual Tour' on the main display to allow accessibility to the material to all ages & demographics

The Events

Plumpton College's Open Day attracted around 12,000 people; the Heathfield Agricultural Show is one of the largest 'one day agricultural shows in the South East' and hosts an Education Area 'to encourage and advance the knowledge of the countryside to others'; just under 58,000 visitors attended the South of England Shows 52nd event!

These events were perfect opportunities for the Teaching & Learning team from Plumpton to encourage the general public and potential students to explore the increasing use of technology at the college. Especially within some of the vocational, practical and skills-based education environments at Plumpton College.

The Teaching & Learning team constructed a basic virtual reality exhibition, with a large TV screen and several headsets ready to be used by anyone who was interested. These headsets showcased VR videos that have been produced as learning resources for students on ongoing courses at the college, and 30 second VR introductions to the college campus and the courses on offer. We wanted to highlight not only the facilities of the college in an innovative way, but show that the land-based courses at Plumpton College are working to be as forward-thinking and inspiring as other subject areas of education.

Virtual Tour of Plumpton

Several of the VR videos which the audience were able to experience included a selection of introductory videos to a multitude of locations around Plumpton College. Members of the Student Union were asked to give a 'Virtual Tour' of Plumpton with which to introduce the college and its facilities to the audience from a student's perspective. There was no scripting involved, in order to ensure the material was as authentic as possible. Locations included the Library, Principal's Lawn, the Sports Hall and the Main Reception, where students spoke about the importance of the facilities and what daily life was like for them as students of Plumpton College.

Also created were introductory videos to areas of the campus of particular interest, especially potential students, but also to members of the public who perhaps have not experienced an agricultural college environment previously. Students on a range of courses such as Agriculture, Forestry, Machinery, Engineering and Equine gave brief introductions to their courses, the facilities, and some of the innovative ways that Plumpton is pushing forward the student learning experience. Showcasing these videos provided a cohesive introduction the college, its facilities and ethos, offering an immersive 360 degree experience of Plumpton that opened up avenues from which to discuss the importance of technology within the learning environment.

VR capture of one of our Agricultural students introducing the Calving Unit, exemplifying the 360 nature of the video
VR capture of the Student Union's introduction video to the Principle's Lawn, from an immersive perspective

Virtual Reality as a Learning Resource

Plumpton also took this opportunity to create a virtual 'map' of the college, from which viewers could 'jump' between locations around the campus and view an introductory video. Some of the departments showcased included Forestry, Equine, Agriculture and Engineering. This immersive platform also allowed Plumpton to highlight some of the learning videos which have been produced for students using virtual reality, in order to demonstrate the beneficial uses of virtual technology within course programmes that are currently running. These included an Equine Skills video, wherein the viewer virtually jumped a set of obstacles; and an Agricultural Machinery instruction video for attaching a trailer to an agricultural vehicle.

Not only did this mean that an audience could view locations within the campus and feel fully immersed in the college, but could experience learning resources created for current curriculum's and used by students during their education. This exemplified the progression of technology within the learning environment, but also demonstrated the effective use of VR within vocational, land-based courses and the innovative approach that Plumpton offers within their specialized field.

Success at The South of England Show

The Virtual Reality and STEM exhibitions were so well received that Plumpton College won first place in the South of England's 'Discover the Countryside'  programme, prevailing as the best Education marquee of the day!

Did the use of Virtual Reality make an impression?

VR exhibition set up at Heathfield Agricultural Show for Plumpton College

One of the most crucial benefits to events such as Open Days and Shows, is that the demographic ranges widely from young children to adults who might have never experienced virtual reality previously. We found that during the day, the most actively engaged audience were the children! Ranging from ages 5 - mid teens, this age range seemed the most adept at getting to grips with, and engaging with, the virtual reality experience and headsets. They understood basic controls on the first go with one of the Occulus headsets, even if this particular technology had not been used before. Although for some people the experience is at first slightly disorientating, we were interested to note that younger children seemed less phased by this, and delved into the virtual world with excitement and eagerness. Interestingly, those that had the most problems with accustoming to the VR headsets were adults who had not been introduced to this type of immersive technology before.

That children were the most actively engaged with the VR technology highlights the ingrained nature of technology within the younger generations, and their willingness to engage with this type of technology. This is especially important when it comes to education, in that children are more stimulated and positively challenged by new environments, digital resources, and more innovative technology within their learning experience. Using virtual reality brings together an immersive learning environment with new opportunities for retention, engagement and excitement both within the classroom, and outside of the typical learning environment.

Plumpton College's VR stand at the Heathfield Agricultural Show - with carpets to ensure a safe operating zone was upheld

Plumpton's virtual reality stand was located within the STEM tent, along with a wide range of activities aimed largely at a the next generation of learners. However there were activities for older children and adults too. Alongside the VR stand were Farming Simulators and Microscope demonstrations, to Agricultural-based activities. The aim of this scope was to encourage all ages to be involved with these STEM activities, and showcase how applicable aspects of Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths can be within all types of curriculums and vocations.

A still from the VR introduction to Plumpton College's working farm, Lambert Farm, highlighting the 360 degree nature of the video

Overall, the virtual reality material and ethos was received positively by many people, ranging from very young children to older adults, all with different reactions to and experiences of the technology. The most positive outcome from Plumpton College's Open Day, the Heathfield Agricultural Show and the South of England Show, was the general excitement towards this type of immersive technology being used for educational purposes. Encouraging people to think differently about land-based courses as innovative and inspiring is one of Plumpton College's goals. Providing a learning environment which caters for all learning needs, experiences and aspirations, which blends together traditional and innovative techniques, is essential not only for improving the learning experience of students at Plumpton, but also to generating momentum for the forward-thinking direction of education in land-based and STEM sectors as a whole.