In 2018, as part of the Education & Training Foundation's OTLA (Outstanding Teaching, Learning & Assessment) grant programme, Plumpton College teamed up with the Sussex Council of Training Providers to explore how virtual reality can be used in the classroom. In addition, to discover the effectiveness of this technology to improve and enhance learning experiences. The project was published online in 2018 at Teaching With Virtual Reality.

The partners involved in this Teaching with Virtual Reality Project funded by the ETF

On the back of this research, in 2018/19 Plumpton received the AoC Beacon Award for 'Effective Use of Technology in Further Education'. Plumpton was also approached by BBC Countryfile to feature in an episode exploring how land-based education is looking to the future.

VR Headseats in the classroom

VR Technology - what is it and where can it be found?

Immersive technology has developed to the point where it is accessible to many classroom environments. Plumpton wanted to explore how, and whether, teachers could use this technology in their lessons to the benefit of their teaching practices, and student learning experiences. The project aims were:

  • Evaluate different types of immersive technology and content in the classroom.
  • Evaluate the impact of the technology on different types of learning activities.
  • Publish example content and a framework of best practices for other colleges.

Initial research was carried out into the current state of virtual reality, and the potential impact within the classroom. At the more affordable end of the scale was Headmount VR - Google Cardboard Camera (approx £10 per headpiece) all the way up to Full Room VR - the Occulus Rift (at around £2000 per setup). The research team also looked at 360 degree cameras. From this research, the team identified four different types of virtual technology.

Types of Virtual Technology

360 Photography and Video

This is potentially the most accessible virtual reality technology available to teachers. Free mobile apps such as the Google Cardboard Camera lets the user create a 360 degree scene using the built in camera, which can be manipulated during viewing by the user as if they were physically within the depicted environment. This means teachers or students could create immersive learning resources, or could capture evidence of learning. Also, the immersive scenes captured can be used on a mobile, laptop, desktop, projector and VR headsets without needing to be altered, which is important when considering the flexibility needed within a classroom environment. However, the problem was found to be in this question: what was the best way to publish these resources to students. Also, post-production was time consuming if professional results are desired.

Augmented Environments

This technology combines 360 degree photos with interactive elements within this material, which creates mixed generated environments like virtual tours. A basic example is QR codes which are used on products/advertisements in the real-world which, when scanned, launch content on a mobile.

Computer Generated Environments

This type of technology was found to be the most inaccessible because of price. However, it can be the most immersive as it includes elements of interactivity which 360 photos, videos and augmented environments do not.

Potential Impact on Learning (Teaching Objectives)

It was important to understand how and where the partners all thought that virtual reality/immersive technologies could impact a classroom. These were the four areas that were identified:

  • 'Instruction or Orientation' - VR could be a good way of introducing new learning areas before they can experience this in real-world situations.
  • 'Knowledge Retrieval' - experiencing new learning areas/skills through VR could improve students' recollection.
  • 'Practical Application' - VR allows students to actively apply skills they have learned, in a VR environment.
  • 'Assessment' - where students prove their competence in a learning area. This could take place in a VR environment, or a captured VR scene which demonstrates a student's mastery of a learning criteria could be used in a portfolio.

Project method, and our findings

Agricultural students benefited from the VR Headsets when being instructed on reversing a tractor, and attaching a trailer, which were identified as the hardest new skills for students to achieve URL:

Each of the main college partners ran at least 3 different trials using a mixture of the above technologies and teaching objectives. 227 students were directly involved, and 15 teachers. After the learning resources were collated, and published, 122 teachers and around 1220 students have been involved or directly impacted by the project, with a view to increasing the dissemination of this project in future academic years.

In July 2018, the project published 10 of these trial learning resources and evaluations on Teaching With Virtual Reality - a resource for other practitioners on how to start using technology in their teaching.

360 learning resources - Identifying Airplane Parts for Aeronautical Engineering, a case study at Greater Brighton Metropolitan College URL:
ESCG Travel and Tourism students used VR headsets to view a virtual tour of a location they were learning about on their course - in this case, The Great Barrier Reef URL:

What was the best type of VR?

All in all, the greatest impact was achieved when learning resources were available in different forms, i.e through VR, tablet and desktop computers all at the same time. Students found this meant that material was accessible outside of educational hours. VR was difficult to support in all cases - the most effective VR was creating 360 degree video or photograph content and publishing this through mobile VR headsets like the Occulus Go.

Where was there most impact within the classroom?

'Induction or Orientation' and 'Knowledge Retrieval' tasks benefited most from VR, though there is scope to use VR in 'Practical Application' and 'Assessment', this was more than the initial teaching trials were capable of actioning. Trials where students were given the equipment to capture 360 degree material themselves was successful, however; and it is hoped that as educational tools and expertise moves forward, more and more immersive resources will be created, published and shared.

A virtual workshop induction in partnership with the ESCG: