Virtual reality, in some fashion, has been at the core of my educational ethos since my inception as a teacher. In the early years, I focused on the virtual world aspects creating simulations and functional economies to teach complex concepts to my students. To achieve this, I absorbed myself in the coding world by learning multiple coding languages and navigating the clunky interfaces of emerging game engines. Eventually, I ended up moving into robotics and other creative expressions of learning. However, when I first experienced virtual reality, I knew that it was different. Virtual worlds allowed learners to simulate the experience, while virtual reality allowed learners to immerse themselves in the said experience. Even unrealistic, seemingly alien constructions can be explicitly depicted and interacted with “to such a degree that [learners] feel as though they are really there” (Southgate, 2020, p. 121). However, most virtual reality implementations in the educational spectrum focus on lecture halls (Doghead Simulations, n.d.; Engage, n.d.; Virtual Speech, n.d.) or allow learners to visualize 3D models with limited interaction (3D Organon, 2020). Such implementations ignore the unique affordances that VR offers in favour of normality. While this trend is nothing new in emerging technologies (Weller, 2020, p. 64), it is particularly frustrating when the technology can be used to create an educational experience that has never been derived before. These explorations of how to teach with VR have led me to my specific critical issue of pedagogy and virtual reality.
Attempting to define how to teach using VR and related technologies often seems like a contradictory task. While there is a plethora of literature expressing the media’s potential, few researchers have directly explored the fundamental question brought by the merger of pedagogy and technology. A question that I first explored in LRNT 523: Foundations of Learning and Technologies, often referred to as the great media debate, Clark and Kozma argued about the role of technology in learning. Clark’s argument aligns with the media being a vessel for learning and thus has no impact on the learning process (1994), while Kozma stated that the media has particular characteristics that can make it more or less suited for specific tasks (1994). With a modern retrospective, it seems the great media debate is over, and Kozma pronounced the winner. However, Clark’s ideas on cost-effectiveness, the belief that if another medium can accomplish the learning goal, always use the cheaper option, and replaceability, the view that there is a multitude of different mediums that can achieve similar learning results (1994) are more relevant today in determining how VR is used. Clark’s observations on replaceability reframed my approach to teaching and VR; instead of pondering how we teach with VR, we must also explore the specific affordances that VR offers that no other media is realistically capable of achieving. By exploring these two questions, a rich understanding that exploits the unique affordances of VR in a pedagogical sound approach can be found.
VR has so much academic potential. However, effectively utilizing the technology seems like a fundamental shift in how and why we teach. For example, most education, especially outside graduate programs, focus on knowledge as the determiner of academic success. Likewise, teaching methodologies are often willingly, and sometimes unwillingly, drafted around these views. How we determine learning is just as important as how we learn. If the devices and methodologies to assess learning is flawed, either by design or by misalignment with the media, then an authentic understanding of learning and success can never be determined, or worse, falsely determined. Thus, a fundamental perception of quality needs to be developed. We need to ask not only what good learning looks like but how to assess such learning.
Fowler shares these views in his article Virtual Reality and Learning: Where is the Pedagogy (2015). In this article, he developed a model for learning in virtual learning environments derived from Dalgarno and Lee’s learning affordances model (2010). The model accounts for the specific learning affordances that VR offers and contextualizes them with Mayes’ and Fowler’s pedagogical framework (1999) to create a model for producing specific learning outcomes. The model is a rational answer to infuse and assess learning in VR through pedagogically sound practices. Likewise, it aligns with traditional approaches to education as the affordances of VR are aligned with conventional hierarchical strategies to conceptualize and categorize student learning, such as the revised and updated version of Bloom’s taxonomy. However, I am somewhat disheartened by implementing such an approach. While Fowler’s model is undoubtingly valuable, it internally follows a means-end philosophy by assuming the technology possesses inherent qualities that are therefore capable of particular impacts on learning (Selwyn, 2010, p. 68).
However, to ignore the past for the sole mean of creating a sound pedagogical approach that may only align with a specific technology is the height of hubris. Likewise, such an approach would insight the natural resistance in others to maintain the status quo when their professional practice, status, or identity are threatened (Austin & Ciaassen, 2008, p. 331). The navigation of innovation and familiarity needs to be maintained with emerging technologies; therefore, it is vital to acknowledge such an approach when discussing the pedagogical implications of VR. While Fowler’s model is a small step, it is a step. To the uninitiated, it may seem unsurmountable. However, as Weller pointed out, we should start with a familiar model to smoothly transition from one media to another (2020, p. 64).
3D Organon. (2020). 3D organon VR anatomy on oculus quest 2 [Video]. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bDyAkmySHmA
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Clark, R. E. (1994). Media will never influence learning. Educational Technology Research and Development, 42(2), 21-29. http://www.ucs.mun.ca/~bmann/0_ARTICLES/Media_Clark.html
Dalgarno, B. & Lee, M. (2010). What are the learning affordances of 3-D virtual environments? British Journal of Educational Technology, 41, 10–32.
Doghead Simulations. (n.d.). Rumii: Doghead Simulations. https://www.dogheadsimulations.com/rumii
Engage. (n.d.). Engage: Virtual communications made real. https://engagevr.io/
Fowler, C. (2015). Virtual reality and learning: Where is the pedagogy? British Journal of Educational Technology, 46(2), 412–422. https://doi.org/10.1111/bjet.12135
Justice, C., Rice, J., Roy, D., Hudspith, B., & Jenkins, H. (2009). Inquiry-based learning in higher education: Administrators’ perspectives on integrating inquiry pedagogy into the curriculum. https://link-springer-com.ezproxy.royalroads.ca/content/pdf/10.1007%2Fs10734-009-9228-7.pdf
Kozma, R. B. (1994). Will media influence learning: Reframing the debate. http://citeseerx.ist.psu.edu/viewdoc/summary?doi=10.1.1.167.4904
Mayes, J. T. & Fowler, C. J. H. (1999). Learning technology and usability: a framework for understanding courseware. Interacting with Computers, 11, 485–497.
MacKay, M., Piechnik, D., Nix, C-H., Stoez, R., & Ruth, S. (2021). Group Post. https://malat-webspace.royalroads.ca/rru0158/lrnt-526-activity-2/
Selwyn, N. (2010). Looking beyond learning: Notes towards the critical study of educational technology. Journal of computer-assisted learning, 26(1), 65-73. https://onlinelibrary-wiley-com.ezproxy.royalroads.ca/doi/full/10.1111/j.1365-2729.2009.00338.x
Virtual Speech. (n.d.). VirtualSpeech: Soft skills training with VR and simulations. https://virtualspeech.com/
Weller, M. (2020). 25 Years of Ed Tech. Athabasca University Press. https://doi.org/10.15215/aupress/9781771993050.01