Metafocus: You Say You Want a(n Educational) Revolution

Written By

Matt Sparks

April 27, 2017

Everybody has been saying it. This column has even said it. Virtual reality will revolutionize education. The technology is already so advanced, the content so extensive, the instructional intent so clear, the efficacy so obvious, and the risks so limited that schools should completely and immediately replace all traditional teaching methods with virtual reality lessons. Below you’ll find an example lesson plan to demonstrate to teachers and instructional designers just how close VR really is to its moonshot promises of revolutionizing education.

(Editor’s note: In case you have concerns about the content, please see this article!)

Lesson plan

Annual field trip to a local farm to learn about food production, now experienced exclusively in virtual reality (VR).

Learning objectives

  • Students will learn how food is produced, including the growth of crops, the life cycles of farm animals, the importance of healthy soil and fresh water, and the lives of farmers
  • Students will experience deep empathy for farmers, farm animals, and plants

Materials and preparation

This lesson is suitable for ages 13 and up due to VR headset manufacturers’ warnings.

Since this field trip will be experienced entirely in VR, the students may not experience all the smells, tastes, physical sensations, sights, and sounds of an actual farm. However, VR creates deep empathy on the part of students. Therefore, by completing the Virtual Farm Experience, they will understand the farm and food production at a much deeper level and feel far more empathy than if they had visited an actual farm in person. Students will also be safe from bug bites, sun, rain, dangerous animals, muddy shoes, interactions with strangers, interactions with each other, and boredom. If students complain about not being able to go to an actual farm, gently remind them that prior to the VR educational revolution, students did not enjoy deeper levels of empathy and increased safety.

Students are allowed to use their own VR headsets for this experience. Students who cannot afford or who for any other reason do not have their own VR headsets may use VR headsets provided by the school.

Schools that cannot afford VR headsets and VR-ready PCs for all students can adjust budgets by reducing teacher salaries or by eliminating the music, arts, history, physical education, math, English, science, drivers ed, and/or athletic departments, as these departments will all soon be replaced by VR experiences anyway. If, in the meantime, schools still don’t have enough VR headsets and PCs to go around, students may have to share, but please make sure to remedy this shortage on a school-wide basis as quickly as possible. How else will the students learn if they don’t all have VR headsets and VR-compatible PCs?

Remind students they may access the Dramamine dispenser and barf buckets at the front of the room any time they get motion sickness. Make sure to have enough barf buckets and Dramamine available. Remind students not to take more than two Dramamine every four hours throughout the day, no matter how motion-sick they may become. 

Introduction

Help students with logins and headset strap adjustment. Students sharing a headset may need additional help with this when it’s their turn.

Remind students not to physically venture beyond the three-by-five-foot space next to their desks and to refrain from waving their arms excessively so that no one gets hurt. Remind students not to trip over anyone’s cords. Discourage students from running into one another throughout the day. This may limit their ability to walk about and explore the virtual farm somewhat, but this is preferable to students repeatedly falling down and injuring themselves and others.

Have students select the Virtual Farm Experience in their headset display. Students will not be able to progress to each successive level within the experience without 100 percent mastery of the current level.

Because student engagement with VR content is higher than with other media, there will be no need for further student-teacher interaction from this point forward.

Instruction

The Virtual Farm Experience will commence immediately upon headset login. Students will experience various farm animals inside and out, riding on tractors, the long and exciting history of fencing, riding on combines, barn maintenance, riding on harvesters, and much more.

Students may experience headset failure or excessive vomiting from motion sickness induced by riding on various virtual farm vehicles. Therefore, teachers should not venture from the classroom for more than 60 minutes at a time. Teachers may want to bring a book to pass the time.

Guided practice

At approximately noon, have students open the virtual lunch experience. Students will virtually help the farmers “pick vegetables” from the “garden,” “prepare” a “meal,” “eat” the “meal,” and “wash” the “dishes” afterward. Notably, students’ Virtual Calorie Points and Nutrition Level Bars will increase throughout the meal, both of which can be redeemed in the eStore and applied toward fantastic virtual gifts and avatar upgrades.

This virtual lunch experience serves three purposes. First, students will learn firsthand what it’s like to grow a garden, prepare and eat meals, and clean up afterward, valuable life lessons for any young person. Second, students will, of course, develop deep empathy for people working in the agriculture and food service industries. Third, the virtual experience will trick the students’ brains into believing they have actually eaten, thereby decreasing hunger and the need for lunch. This can be a major benefit for students in schools that no longer provide lunches, as is often necessary due to the high cost of purchasing VR headsets, PCs, and revolutionary educational content such as the Virtual Farm Experience.

Teachers may choose to eat a snack in the breakroom at this time. Teachers who are completing the Virtual Farm Experience along with their students may prefer to avoid eating as well, especially if planning to ride on virtual farm vehicles of any kind.

Independent working time

When students finish the main Virtual Farm Experience tour, they may select and explore any of the Additional Virtual Materials provided as part of the Virtual Farm Experience package.

The Additional Virtual Materials will soon include the Virtual Concentrated Animal Feeding Operation (CAFO) Tour, a Day in the Life of a Migrant Farm Worker, and the Virtual Climate Change Drought Simulator. Much more educational content is also planned for future release. Unfortunately, none of the Additional Virtual Materials have yet been released for student viewing. We expect that some of the additional materials and experiences will be released in the coming months or years. We expect that they will be incredible experiences when they are finally made available.

Due to the challenging nature of the content, the Additional Virtual Materials may be unsuitable for some younger viewers. If students begin crying uncontrollably, they may take off their headsets.

Students may opt to bypass the Additional Virtual Materials if they feel they’ve experienced enough deep empathy for one day.

Students must bring virtual permission slips signed by their parents or guardians allowing the student to access the Additional Virtual Materials. Parents or guardians must check the box that says they accept full responsibility for the many risks involved with VR, as described in “Real Virtuality: A Code of Ethical Conduct.”

Students who have finished the Additional Virtual Materials or who have opted to bypass them may play their favorite video games until all students have finished their virtual experiences.

Lesson extensions

Because no quantifiable results on the effectiveness of VR in the classroom have yet been proven by peer-reviewed research, nor have the long-term effects of VR on child development been studied, teachers may encourage students to tour an actual farm as a supplement to the Virtual Farm Experience. Decades of research show that these supplementation practices (i.e., actual field trips) have strong positive effects on student learning and retention rates. Further, when the instructional intent is explicit and clear, actual field trips are shown to be even more beneficial. However, do not forget that the actual farm experience should be the supplemental material, not the other way around.

Teachers may review the Virtual Farm Experience Teacher’s Guide if the instructional intent is not made fully clear in this lesson plan.

If students are unable to finish the Virtual Farm Experience due to fatigue of the neck, eye, or face muscles, teachers may send students home with a practice block (i.e., a brick) and elastic strap to build endurance.

Assessment

If the students looked like they had fun, then the Virtual Farm Experience was clearly a success and no other assessment will be necessary. Encourage students to rate the Virtual Farm Experience with five stars in the Virtual App Store.

Summary

Just like radio, TV, computers, and the Internet did in the 20th century, VR is clearly poised to revolutionize every aspect of education. Feel free to use this lesson plan in your own classroom or school. Be sure to let us know in the comments how well it worked for you and your students.

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