March 5. 2024. 9:16

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Extended reality may be new frontier of education

Educators, industry practitioners and experts are looking at how extended reality could make education practices more accessible for students, by conducting research and modelling virtual classrooms.

Meta’s ‘Immersive Education Symposium’ took place in Brussels on 30 November, with speakers discussing virtual reality (VR) and extended reality (XR) and how they could be incorporated into future classrooms.

VR is a simulated experience that immerses the user in a virtual world, while XR is an umbrella term that includes VR, augmented reality, and mixed reality.

Vanessa Penelope, Executive Director of France Immersive Learning, which federates immersive learning players, said learners can focus on what they need to learn and observe when immersed in the VR scene.

She also said participants can collaborate and practise, for example, English language skills but noted that many teachers do not understand the potential VR has to help them in their work.

Earlier this year, France Immersive Learning published its practical guide to help address this and support people in understanding how immersive learning works, the conditions and equipment required to deliver it and to identify the steps that allow it to launch a project.

Extended reality and accessibility

Neil McDonnell, a philosophy and XR technology professor at the University of Glasgow, recognised some practical concerns, such as the cost of buying enough headsets for the entire classroom or ensuring a stable internet connection.

At the same time, he focused on what happens when the conditions are met and what a lesson integrating XR would look like. The example given was an imaginary lesson, a field trip to an Iron Age archaeological site.

“The teacher was able to do things we couldn’t possibly have done otherwise. We can set a treasure hunt to try and find some fragments in the site”, he said, adding that real fragments obviously should not be taken from the site.

Those who, for some reason, would not have been able to make a real field trip can participate in the virtual one, he said.

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Moreover, “the 3D objects similar to the fragments” could be rotated “in the middle of the room to fit each student’s perspective”. But such technologies can also be helpful for those who may be visually impaired with the help of AI-driven audio descriptions.

Such a lesson, McDonell also said, means “the teacher has to expand the ambitions of what can be taught and how it can be taught.”

Ásta Olga Magnúsdóttir, co-founder of Astrid, an Iceland-based organisation focused on education about climate change, emphasised the importance of considering certain questions when developing new technologies.

Those include “How does it fit into the curriculum? Or does it fit into the classroom?”, she said, adding that this is “impossible to do without the teachers”.

Despite the already mentioned benefits of accessibility, Markku Turunen, professor of interactive technology at Tampere University, who worked on Finland’s recently published national metaverse strategy, said that “education as a whole and especially higher educational institutions” should be addressed more regarding XR.

He emphasised the importance of increasing accessibility without making new technologies as well as the need for more diversity, saying that multiple technologies are not where they are supposed to be in this sense, “so we are on the bad side of the spectrum, but I hope to see the focus on the other end” in the future, he said.

Meta and education

Nick Clegg, president of Global Affairs at Meta and former MEP at the European Parliament, as well as former deputy prime minister in the UK, told the event that “there is almost nothing that you can care about in life that doesn’t in some way go back to education”.

He recalled his first meeting in the metaverse “when it was quite a clunky, glitchy experience”. Yet, he thought, “Wow, if you can learn things in this way […] you’re just going to remember stuff so much better”.

“I’m almost 57, so I come from the kind of pencil-and-paper generation of learning. It was all textbooks and blackboard, but the idea that you could learn about Ancient Rome by actually walking through it rather than reading about it, you can learn about the human body by travelling through it rather than just staring at a diagram – it just seems so obvious to me that that is going to be more inspiring, more engaging, and more memorable.”

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