This week, we discuss the realities of planning lessons in VR and reflect on the hits and misses of a VR lesson while using the platform, Spatial.
In today’s VR lesson, learners focused on the topic of language learning in virtual reality. The goal was to utilize topic-related vocabulary to express specific feelings about and reactions (positive and negative) to their experiences learning English in VR. They also had the opportunity to make suggestions on how to improve the immersive learning experience. By the end of the lesson, learners completed 4 different tasks that lasted about 45 minutes.
Using the VR platform, Spatial, we conducted the lesson using a paid Pro account, which offered access to host tools (essential for teaching in VR). These tools allowed us to do things like mute and remove participants, control what participants can add or edit in the space and revert a room to the last save. In this lesson, we used the gallery environment because it allowed for a lot of space to move around in and had plenty of walls for adding tasks and notecards. The latter half of the lesson took us to the campfire environment, which offered a calmer, less bright (easier on the eyes) environment to reflect and then close the lesson.
This lesson was successful in that we managed to get through each planned stage with only a few minor bumps along the way. There were 3 main hits of this lesson:
Spatial offers notecards that participants can easily access from their tool bar. They have the option of handwriting, typing or using voice to text. The notecard colors and sizes can be adjusted, and cards are fairly easy to grab, move and place, though, it does take some practice to figure out how to resize them and not accidentally delete them. As a learning tool, these were great for immediately getting learners to create and add to the learning space. They also work well if you spread them around a space and have learners collect and organize them.
Another neat feature of Spatial is that you can easily move between virtual environments by placing a portal in a given environment. We were able to start off the lesson in a gallery and then move to the campfire by simply placing the portal and then clicking on it. Unfortunately, one of our students didn’t make it over when we moved, so it can take some testing out and learner training beforehand.
A major hit was when learners jumped over to the campfire scene, saw task instructions on a big card right in front of them, read them, and then immediately started the task. They needed no direction or guidance, which was amazing to witness. This was a clear example of how the immersive learning experience can eliminate learner hesitation and self-consciousness, allowing them to focus on the learning. Moving from one space to the next also seemed to keep learners engaged as they were curious to figure out what they would be doing in the next space.
Even though we got through everything we had planned for the lesson, there were still several misses that stood out in this learning experience:
Designing and developing a lesson in VR takes time. While you may start out designing a typical lesson plan on a document, you’ll eventually make your way into the VR learning environment using a web browser or a VR headset. If you’re new to VR, then just learning how to move and navigate the controls will take time, especially if you are learning a new VR platform. On top of that, actually designing the VR learning space takes its own time. This involves deciding how to use the space, where to place objects, labels, images, PDFs, etc., and considering how learners will move around and interact in that space. For us, a single 45-minute lesson easily amounted to 3+ hours of learning, planning and creating.
Spatial offers many useful host tools, but one feature essential for teaching in VR that it lacks is the ability to gather participants. In a typical lesson, learners may switch from working as a whole class, to pair work, to group work, and back. To do this in VR, teachers or facilitators need to be able to send learners off to work on their own while also being able to gather them back in the same place with the click of a button. It saves time and frustration of having to actually get learners’ attention and verbally call them back to a common point. While we only had 3 students to manage in this lesson, we still lost 1 when using the portal to move to the campfire but having the option to automatically gather learners would have gotten us all there, safe and sound.
While planning and teaching in Spatial, we experienced a variety of unexplained glitches that detracted from the VR teaching and learning experience. One of the major problems we experienced during a lesson was a kind of black box that would surround our heads randomly followed by delayed and repeated audio, which made it nearly impossible to teach the lesson. Even after contacting Spatial support several times, we’ve not received any word on what the issue was. There were also issues with delayed audio, participants who couldn’t hear each other, unsettling visual vibrations while using a headset, and accidental deletion of objects with no option to undo. A major problem in this lesson was the disappearance of a previously placed portal, which led to one student being unable to move over to a new space. Figuring out what, when, and how to save environments and templates in Spatial also took some figuring out (still figuring it out).
After our lesson, we reflected on it by doing a VR walkthrough of each task, stopping to analyze how it went and what we might have done differently. Here’s the video of our discussion:
Looking forward, we’re planning to experiment a bit more with Spatial, but we’re also curious what other VR platforms have to offer for VR-based language learning and teaching. We hope to experiment with different ways to engage learners in a VR learning space using activities like role plays, storytelling, and scavenger hunts. Ultimately, our goal is to create more opportunities for learner-initiated tasks that pique curiosity and encourage learners to explore.