VR App Testing Experiences from a Pedagogical Viewpoint

In the following post, we would like to share our experiences and findings from VR testing sessions that were conducted at the Department of Teacher Education, University of Jyväskylä. Firstly, we will present a very brief summary with key suggestions for the application of VR in a classroom settings. Later, the testing process and findings will be explained with more details.

If you feel like pondering VR in your instruction, please stop and reflect these ideas.

Text by Iryna Miakush  (iryna.miakush at gmail.com) & Janne Fagerlund (janne.fagerlund at jyu.fi)

With support from the background team: Kalle (8th grade student, Huhtasuon yhtenäiskoulu), and Merja Juntunen, Mikko Vesisenaho, Johanna Kainulainen, Marika Peltonen, Minna Silvennoinen, Mari Kyllönen from JYU/OKL and Päivi Häkkinen from FIER.


A summary of key results

According to our findings and understanding, we made some house rules or suggestions that might be beneficial for the successful use of VR in  a classroom.

For a teacher:

  • The VR apps/games need to be selected accordingly to the learning goals and expected outcomes (which need to be clarified).
  • The VR apps/games need to be tested beforehand by an adult in terms of: rules, tasks, actions, required knowledge and also, environment (violence and some ethical issues).
  • The teacher’s role and tasks need to be identified and, accordingly to that, some specific skills or knowledge gained (if needed).
  • The awareness of some side-effects of VR need to be also taken into consideration (e.g. cyber-sickness,[see publication: A discussion of cybersickness in VR]).
  • The ability to provide students with equal assistance and support is important for their motivation, learning process and outcomes.

For a student the following suggestions will be beneficial for VR experiences and learning outcomes:

  • Follow teacher’s/s’ recommendation.
  • Learn about studied topic before the VR session (if possible or/and required).
  • Think about prior knowledge and make connections between prior and gained knowledge or some other concepts.
  • Be active and critical.
  • Tell your teacher/s in case of any unpleasant feelings or questions.
  • During (if possible), or after the VR session, think: How did it expand your learning knowledge? What did you learn? How did you feel and why? Did you face any challenges? Why did it happen? What can you do in order to improve your learning next time?
  • In case if you have any unanswered questions or doubts –  ask your peers or teacher/s.

What is it about?

Virtual Reality (VR) and its application in educational settings is becoming more and more popular nowadays. One of the benefit of using VR apps and games is the potential to increase students’ intrinsic motivation by combining “entertainment part” with educational goals. Thus, making learning more meaningful for them and resulting in better learning outcomes. For those interested in more about VR, check [see publication: Virtual Reality: A survival guide for the social scientist].

However, it is still not clear how to combine and balance the “entertainment part” and pedagogy as well as how VR can be applied in classroom settings and what is a teacher role in there. The advantages and disadvantages of VR is an interesting topic, not only for a discussion but also for the research.

In order to gain some practical understanding and knowledge about existing VR apps and games, we tested over 50 of them and came up with some of the conclusions that we would like to share with a wider community.

How was it done?

In total, 56 VR apps and games  were tested during three days by a second-year master degree student (Learning, Education and Technology Master Degree Programme, University of Oulu) and an 8th grade school student (Huhtasuon yhtenäiskoulu) at the Department of Teacher Education, University of Jyväskylä. Our diverse background, the ability to think critically and share ideas with each other was an advantage that had a positive impact on the testing session and its results.

Picture. 1. Testing area. Testing sessions lasted around 6 hours per day during three days (testing time took from 5 to 20   minutes per one item).

The apps/games were investigated accordingly to previously decided questions that were related to:

  • the focus and main goals of an app/game: What can be learnt with it?; Can the game/app be used for some subject specifically?
  • collaboration with others: Are there any possibilities or potentials to collaborate?
  • target audience and age group;
  • and, our personal opinion and feelings after testing were also considered.

Picture 2. Devices that were used: HTC VR glasses, Vive Controllers and Headphones.

Findings

General overview of tested apps/games

In accordance to our findings, 21 out of 56 were defined as educational VR apps/games. The educational purposes and implications were recognized clearly. The educational apps and games provided opportunities for gaining content knowledge (e.g. art, biology, geography, history, physics and some others), improving some skills or both.

The selected games and apps are briefly described in additional materials, see here.

Box 1. The Body VR application.

Title Brief description
The Body VR: JOURNEY INSIDE A CELL Main activity: travelling in a human body, discovering it from different levels; human’s body functions are also shown there..

Subject matter: Biology, Anatomy

Picture from:  https://www.oculus.com/experiences/rift/967071646715932/

11 out of 56 items were selected as semi-educational because of some potential to be used in educational settings or for educational purposes. Mostly, they provided possibilities for the improvement of some skills (e.g. collaboration, communication, problem-solving skills and some others).  However, those apps and games were not designed as clearly educational, thus, they can be used in different settings. In order to apply them with educational purposes, it needs to be clearly understood and specified how they can be used and what are educational goals as well intended learning outcomes.

Box 2. AltSpace VR application. (More information can be found here).

Title Brief description
AltSpace VR The environment is a futuristic virtual reality, a person can edit the avatar and go in to different virtual places, meet people and communicate with them.

Picture from: https://www.hypergridbusiness.com/2016/09/altspacevr-zeros-in-on-social-virtual-reality/

24 were defined as only entertaining games and apps and were not analysed deeply. However, this dimension could be vague, because some apps/games could technically improve some possibilities for learning (hand-eye coordination, some movements etc.), which needs to be discovered and planned better.

Collaboration in VR

During testing session, we also tried to figure out possibilities for collaboration (i.e., possibilities to learn, work or do same activities together at the same time) in VR. The possibilities for cooperation (i.e. learning/working individually but combining the results with an aim to complete a task/s) were not analysed deeply.

Unfortunately, only one game among the tested ones that was defined as educational had an option to collaborate with others. It was Anyland (see additional materials), which is a VR social sandbox game with possibilities to build objects with others and discover existing products created by others. In two games, the collaboration possibilities were not clear. Although, there may be other games, such as Minecraft, that allow collaboration. In addition, some of the games have a potential to be developed in terms of collaborative features and opportunities.

Among semi-educational games/apps, seven were considered as tools that can be used for collaboration with others (e.g. Destination, Bigscreen Beta, Pararea VR, vrchat, AltSpace VR). They are all virtual spaces/environments, where people can meet and organise various of activities together (arrange some meetings, search for the information on the Internet, build something, discuss, collaborate and/or play games). Based on our knowledge, it was concluded that those apps/games could be used as tools that enhance collaboration. Moreover, it would be beneficial to employ an external educational or collaborative script that is, a set of guidelines, strategies and tips for enhancing collaboration which are provided by an external source, such as a teacher or some technological tools) (Fischer, Kollar, Stegmann, & Wecker, 2013). In addition, external collaborative script can be loose (mostly, for students that have some collaborative experiences and knowledge) and more detailed for students with less or no collaborative experiences. The script can be embedded in the task (where it is explained what and how the task has to be completed) or can be narrative. Overall, the external script is aimed to guide and enhance collaborative activities.

Conclusions for educational practice

For instructors applying VR in the classroom:

  • Mostly, the application of VR apps/games in classroom settings requires pedagogical thought as well as knowledge about specific app/game. Thus, it is important to test the app or game before using it with students and reflect on pedagogical knowledge that might be beneficial (e.g. What skills and knowledge is required from a teacher for a specific task or game/app?).
  • The learning objectives, outcomes and, consequently, teacher’s role need to be identified beforehand. For example, depending on the task, is the teacher’s role to monitor the learning and/or provide students with some assistance, support or guidelines? Is the monitoring/instructional/etc.  role fading or changing during the task?
  • When using VR, it is important to consider how VR app/game will be embedded to the classroom settings, so it will not interrupt the flow in the class and each student will have a task to do and equal amount of support and assistance.
  • And, some possible side effects need to be also taken into consideration (e.g. cyber-sickness, see e.g. [see publication: A discussion of cybersickness in VR].

From students’ point of view, the following would be beneficial for knowledge construction (depending on the apps and educational goals):

  • Content knowledge – before the VR session: to have some content knowledge, thus, during the VR session the new knowledge will be constructed on the existing one.
  • Interactivity – during: to have a possibility to interact with a content or seek for the information, ask/mark questions and participate in knowledge construction actively.
  • Reflection – during/after: to reflect on the VR session, learning process/outcomes and challenges that were encountered and, therefore, to consolidate their knowledge, analyse mistakes, learning skills and strategies (depending on the focus of the reflection) and improve self-efficacy. The reflection will result  in more meaningful and long-lasting learning outcomes.
  • Having some basic knowledge about self-regulated learning (SRL), would be also beneficial for students’ learning process and outcomes. SRL can be defined as a set of strategies and actions that are taken by a students in order to regulate own learning and achieve learning outcomes (Zimmerman, 1989; Järvelä, Hurme & Järvenoja, 2011). According to Zimmerman (2002), SRL “is the self-directive process by which learners transform their mental abilities into academic skills” (p.65).

For the developers of educational VR:

In the respect of practical aspects of VR apps and games, we concluded that the 56 tested items, mostly, were lacking something and were incomplete. We also made some conclusions in terms of:

  • Technical development of the apps/games: some of the apps/games had a potential (e.g. idea was good) but, we couldn’t figure out how to use it, it crashed or was not very interactive (Vintage VR – observing historical pictures, but no explanations, no interactivity).
  • VR environment design: need to be balanced otherwise it can overload working memory and students’ cognitive abilities (Kiili, 2005; Huang, 2011).
  • Usability: many were not easy to use, not clear how/what to do, what is the idea.
  • Tasks: need to be clearly specified otherwise time spent on task understanding can affect motivation and learning process.

VR is a brand new and a constantly developing field especially in education. There are many little explored, interesting fronts that could be investigated. Some of the ongoing work at the University of Jyväskylä include examining how VR can be incorporated into multidisciplinary learning modules and conducting physiological and EEG measurements during VR experiences.

A very short questionnaire about this blog post for teachers: please click here to answer

References

  • Fischer, F., Kollar, I., Stegmann, K. & Wecker, C. (2013). Toward a Script Theory of Guidance in Computer-Supported Collaborative Learning. Educational Psychologist, 48(1), 56-66, https://doi.org/10.1080/00461520.2012.748005
  • Huang, W.-H. (2011). Evaluating learners’ motivational and cognitive processing in an online game-based learning environment. Computers in Human Behaviour, 27, 694-704.
  • Järvelä, S., Hurme, T.-R., & Järvenoja, H. (2011). Self-regulation and motivation in CSCL environments. In S. Ludvigsen, A. Lund & R. Säljö (Eds.), Learning in social practices: ICT and new artifacts-transformation of social and cultural practices. Pergamon.
  • Kiili, K. (2005). Digital game-based learning: Towards an experiential gaming model. Internet and Higher Education, 8, 13-24.
  • Zimmerman, B., J. (1989). A Social Cognitive View of Self-Regulated Academic Learning. Journal of Educational Psychology, 81(3), 329-339.
  • Zimmerman, B. J. (2002). Becoming a Self-Regulated Learner: An Overview. Theory Into Practice, 41(2), 64-70. DOI: 10.1207/s15430421tip4102_2

Selected readings

  1. Designing a Future for Classroom VR, published: April, 2017. Retrieved from: https://blogs.brown.edu/gaspee/designing-a-future-for-classroom-vr/
  2. A super quick safety guide to letting your kids use VR headsets. Retrieved from: https://www.wareable.com/vr/guide-vr-headsets-children
  3. Some of the games’ reviews. Retrieved from: http://www.336gamereviews.com

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