Immersive technology: Classroom asset or just another tech fad?

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Augmented reality, virtual reality, mixed reality — can immersive technology really benefit students and their learning, or are these just tech fads?

In a recent webinar hosted by edWeb.net, author and edtech consultant Jaime Donally joined with Michelle Luhtala, the library department chair at New Canaan High School in Connecticut, to explain that although these technologies aren’t a panacea, they are transforming learning in constructive ways and will continue to do so for the foreseeable future. The speakers also warn that while the thought of using these tools can be exciting, schools considering adoption need first to plan for successful integration into classroom and curriculum.

Donally and Luhtala stressed the importance of first understanding how these technologies are defined. Augmented reality, first brought to wide public attention by the breakout mobile game Pokémon Go, takes a view of the real world and enhances it with digital overlays. Virtual reality is a completely digital experience with no views of the real world. Mixed reality is a form of augmented reality that not only overlays virtual objects, but anchors them into the user’s view of the real world.

But all of the technologies, Donally said, are quickly becoming more relevant for learning environments. Students are using immersive technologies to collaborate with each other in ways that are no longer limited by geographic areas or language barriers.

These tools can also help students build empathy. Users can experience anything from being in the position of an individual with autism or right in the middle of a hurricane.

Schools can even use immersive technology for enhanced safety training and emergency preparedness.

And looking toward the future, immersive technology is even paving the way for learning in completely virtual classrooms.

“360 environments are our future,” Donally said. “We don’t live in this little box — we live in a 360 world. The way that we want to interact with people should be the way we interact normally without that technology. We’re seeing a transition into something that feels more realistic in that way.”

The speakers emphasized how these tools can transform learning. Immersive technologies can allow students to experience things that would be impossible in real life, such as walking on the moon. And as students are given more opportunities to use this technology for their own content creation, they can take greater ownership of their learning.

While these tools have the ability to transform learning, that doesn’t necessarily mean that the success a tool’s integration can be easily assessed. Immersive technology tools, therefore, should be supplementary as opposed to making up the entire learning experience, speakers noted. Over time, the metrics used to measure success may become apparent, however, and Luhtala said one qualitative measure could come from interviews in which students are asked how these technologies are changing their feelings about their learning or abilities.

The bottom line, said Donally and Luhtala, is to make sure not to let the excitement surrounding a new technology initiative overpower the importance of proper planning — a well-executed implementation is crucial to ensuring stakeholders are more likely to stay on board.

About the Presenters

Michelle Luhtala is the library department chair at New Canaan High School in Connecticut and was one of five school librarians named as a “Mover and Shaker” by Library Journal in 2015. She is the winner of the 2011 “I Love My Librarian” award and the Library Association’s 2010 Outstanding Librarian Award. The New Canaan High School Library won AASL’s National School Library Program of the year in 2010. Follow her on Twitter @mluhtala.

Jaime Donally is a passionate technology enthusiast. She began her career as a math teacher and later moved into instructional technology. Her desire to build relationships has brought about opportunities to collaborate with students and educators around the world. She provides staff development and training on immersive technology as an edtech consultant.

Her latest adventures include the launch of Global Maker Day and the #ARVRinEDU community. She works as an author and speaker to provide practical use of augmented and virtual reality with more resources at ARVRinEDU.com.

Join the Community

Emerging Tech for Schools and Libraries is a free professional learning community on edWeb.net where school librarians, teachers, and administrators can explore all the ways to integrate technology and 21st century learning into school library programs.

This edWeb webinar, sponsored by Mackin Educational Resources, can be found here.

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