At the risk of getting in over my head with this assignment, I’ve chosen what I think is truly an emerging technology, but one that has great potential in education, and that is the development of a plan for incorporating virtual reality into the K-12 classroom. I came across the concept in one of the articles in Module 7 of this course, 9 Ed Tech trends to Watch in 2016 which led me to the discovery of Google Cardboard, an extremely affordable VR headset that operates with a smartphone with which you can download various apps for viewing virtual environments. The technology is still very new and developing, but is already being used in classrooms with more and more lesson plans and content being created. I think this technology has enormous potential for increasing student engagement in the curriculum by establishing a connection between students and the material through immersive experiences that place students in the context of what they are learning.
While there are different types of virtual reality technologies, some more immersive than others, the specific technology that this plan is geared to is the use of Google Cardboard headsets and the free Expeditions app that includes content that teachers can use to lead their classes on virtual field trips to supplement their lessons and learning objectives. This is a plan to incorporate 1-2 full classroom sets of Google Cardboard within a middle school. The sets would be available for teachers trained in its use, using lesson plans developed specifically for VR technology. When not in use in classrooms, the sets would be available for use in the library/learning commons/makerspace setting of the school by individual or small groups of students and guided by the librarian.
And to go back to one of the first readings of the course, Brian Mathews, Think Like a Startup, this is an attempt to be innovative, disruptive, and transformative. This is not a plan that is meant to be carried out exactly as outlined. There will need to be changes, it will not be perfect, but it is a path to get started. Here we go.
Goals and Objectives
This plan seeks to create a program for one middle school to integrate virtual reality technology into the curriculum with the use of Google Cardboard and its associated Expeditions content. As stated above, the main goal for this technology would be to increase student engagement in the classroom. This buy-in from students would potentially have many other beneficial effects on their academic success including increases in motivation, an expanded worldview, increased participation, improved grades and test scores, and a more empathetic attitude.
Specific goals and objectives for lessons would be created by a collaboration of teachers, and would vary by subject and lesson. Goals and objectives could also be developed with participation from students themselves within the library environment-school library VR programs could be planned cooperatively by students and library staff based on student-driven interest. Not only would the technology itself be participatory, but the program development would be as well, which would advance the hyperlinked library model as described in numerous course readings including Stephens’ The hyperlinked school library: engage, explore, celebrate.
The Middle School Community
The information community that this plan seeks to directly target is that of general education middle school students of all subject areas. The goal of the program is to engage all students in the material being taught, regardless of the subject matter, and inclusive of all students. There could potentially be specific lesson plans or virtual environments for particular segments of the middle school population, such as students with special needs, however, this plan is meant for the student population of a middle school as a whole. Secondarily, the plan also seeks to engage teachers with this new technology, as teacher investment in the technology is integral to the success of the program. Teachers will be the ones to lead students in the use of the technology, and if the teachers are not willing to adopt or be invested in the technology, then it will be of no use to students. On the same level, administrators will also need to be on board in order to get approval and support for funding and implementation. This is similar to the discussion on the necessity of library staff buy-in as described in our course text, Library 2.0: A Guide to Participatory Service.
Action Brief Statement
Convince middle school students and teachers that by participating in lessons that utilize VR technology they will experience an increase in student engagement with the curriculum which will improve achievement of educational outcomes and learning objectives because they will then be better prepared to enter the 21st century as successful and productive citizens.
Evidence and Resources
This is still a very recent development, so there is not much concrete evidence/research or scholarly articles yet to support its wholesale adoption into all curriculums. However, there is evidence that warrants exploration of this technology within the curriculum on a supplemental basis. And like all technology, there will be further developments, new devices, better and more affordable options as the technology progresses. This should not be undertaken in a moment of “technolust,” but neither should it be avoided out of “technophobia” (Stephens, 2008). Like any educational technology, it is not merely the technology itself that provides meaning and value, it is the ability of the technology to enhance the lesson. One must be careful not to rely solely on technology itself as the article in Module 7 on the L.A. School District’s failed implementation of Ipads here. Technology does not replace quality teaching, but can be used to augment the educational experience. With that said, there are real world examples of the value of this technology within an educational context.
According to an article in the School Library Journal in December of 2016, “ Of 349 K–12 schools answering a June 2016 survey by Extreme Networks, more than half reported that they are actively investigating VR for classroom use.” While many schools are concerned about the current lack of educational VR content, the development of that content is currently underway. There are estimates that the market for VR technology will continue to increase, with some estimates claiming that could be as much as $200 billion dollars by 2020 (Reede & Bailiff, 2016). Currently, Google Expeditions offers over 200 trips, and has a partnership with educational content creators such as Houghton Mifflin Harcourt and Pearson. Doing just a Google search on lesson plans for Google Cardboard brings up a multitude of sites and blogs with specific lesson plans that have been created and shared by teachers already using the technology in their classrooms. Virtual learning environments and simulations have been used with success in the areas of higher education, medicine, military, and scientific endeavors and has been shown to increase engagement, motivation and the development of specific skills (Reede & Baillif, 2016).
I’ve listed some links to articles below for more information on VR and its use. Where I think the real potential with VR within the K-12 environment is, is in its potential to engage students with the use of story and empathy. One of the books on the suggested reading for this course is Daniel Pink’s A Whole New Mind, which lays out the skills and concepts that will be essential for success in the future, and two of these skills are that of story and empathy. Using VR to take virtual field trips makes use of the story concept first by teaching students concepts through the use of story, as well as allowing students to tell their own stories of what they have gained and experienced with this technology. I also think the empathy that can be invoked with this technology could be very powerful in motivating students. To quote one article, “Perhaps the most utopian application of this technology will be seen in terms of bridging cultures and fostering understanding among young students, as it will soon be possible for a third-grade class in the U.S. to participate in a virtual trip with a third-grade class in India or Mexico” (Reede & Bailiff, 2016). Students can “experience” the contexts of others, making learning more real and creating a connection. I came across an article here that describes one Makerspace Coordinator’s philosophy on using empathy as a starting point for students to use critical thinking and problem-solving skills. There are many other examples of the use of VR to engage students with story and empathy.
Mission, Guidelines, and Policy
The program would align with the mission of the school/district, as well as the mission statement of the library/learning commons of the school, which every library should have according to Casey & Savastinuk in Library 2.0: A guide to participatory library service. The importance of aligning any technology or service to the library’s mission is also discussed in Casey and Stephens’ post here.
Policies and Guidelines
Policies and guidelines can be guided by other districts that are currently and successfully utilizing the technology. Speaking directly with staff who have used the technology, and obtaining advice on what should be included would be invaluable in developing policies for use.
In the development of lesson plans that utilize the technology, the program should align with any curriculum standards, including State standards and the Common Core. Lesson plans should demonstrate specific learning objectives that align with these standards. These lesson plans will be developed collaboratively with teachers, instructional technology facilitators, and teacher librarians. Policies regarding any accessibility issues that may arise should be developed with input from the Special Education Department of the district.
Safety guidelines should be in place based on the recommendations of the technology manufacturers. For example, there are guidelines in place for the safe usage of VR headsets among young people, including the maximum time spent using headsets, and making sure students are given frequent breaks. There should also be parental consent required for use, specifying to parents how this technology is to be used, and how it aligns with educational standards. Damage policies will need to be developed with input from administration and the IT department.
Several options exist for funding of this project. The Google Cardboard sets themselves are relatively inexpensive, with various models on the market between $5-$15 each. As the initial plan would only require one or two class sets, the capital needed for that component could easily come out of the school budget. Also needed would be a concurrent amount of smartphones for use with each headset and a teacher tablet per classroom set. Possible funds for these devices could come from donations-either of money or smartphones themselves from the community, or crowd-sourcing venues such as donorschoose.org. Many schools have parent groups that distribute funds for special programs, and there are also grants to apply for. Fundraising is another option.
Once the initial purchase is made, there should be financial contingencies in place for maintenance of the technology in the event of replacement needs due to damage or breakdown.
Action Steps & Timeline
The initial planning stages of the project would take place during the school year with everything ready to go for the beginning of the next school year. I don’t anticipate a very lengthy process once the equipment is received, but there would be sufficient time needed to secure funding for the devices. Total time for the project from securing funds and approval to actual use in a classroom lesson plan with students is projected to be 1 year. Evaluation of the program would take place during the school year following roll out, with any changes or expansion of the program taking place the next school year.
Submit program request to Principal for approval: 1-2 weeks
- There are several possibilities/alternatives at this step. The Principal could approve the project as submitted, authorizing funds from the school budget for purchase of equipment, which would greatly speed up the timeline. This would be the ideal situation, but not likely in most school districts. In this scenario, the fund-raising step of the timeline could be bypassed and the project could move directly to the prototype phase.
- The project as submitted could be rejected by the Principal. In this scenario, the alternative plan would be to initiate the prototype step using only funds within the existing library budget, as well as any donations, fund-raising, or parent group funding possible. Evaluation of the technology would be undertaken, gathering evidence to support further expansion. Once the technology is observed and experienced by students, staff, and administration and its potential value demonstrated, the original project plan would be resubmitted to administration for approval. This would set the timeline back by another year.
- The anticipated scenario would be approval from the Principal for the project, but with partial or no funding from the existing school budget. At this point, the process would move to forward with the following timeline.
Securing Funds and Initiating Prototype Program: 6 months
Funds would be secured as outlined in the Funding section of this plan already discussed above and would take approximately 6 months.
The prototype/pilot project would occur simultaneously with the fundraising efforts and is a key part of the entire process, involving user input to make any changes as described in Stephens’ Taming the Web post, Taming technolust: Ten steps for planning in a 2.0 world (2008). The prototype project would include the purchase of 5-10 Google Cardboard headsets for use within the library/learning commons with small groups of students, as well as for staff experimentation. The headsets would be used by students within the library using their own devices, under the direction of the teacher librarian/media specialist. During this prototype period, the librarian would master the use of the technology in order to train teachers in its use once a complete set of devices has been received. Resources for lesson plans would be gathered, with the creation of specific lesson plans by the librarian with input and collaboration from teachers. Users (both students and teachers) could help identify any issues or bugs with the technology that could be addressed during this period to facilitate a smooth start with classroom use.
Any IT issues would be worked out by the district IT department, but if significant issues occur, the timeline for completion of the project could be set back at this point, depending on the issue and ability of the IT department to address the issues in a timely manner. There could be other tech issues that take priority within the district.
Purchase of 1-2 full classroom VR sets: 1 month
After securing funding, 1-2 full classroom sets of 35 Google Cardboard headsets with smartphones and one teacher tablet per set would be purchased. The librarian/media specialist would take responsibility for set up of devices.
Development of lesson plans for demonstration: 1 month
The librarian/media specialist would have developed 3 specific lesson plans within different subject areas for demonstration to teachers and administration during the prototype period. Ideally, this would occur with teacher input and collaboration. It is assumed that the librarian is familiar with the curriculum.
Promotion/Staff Development and Recruitment: 1 month
The promotion and marketing of the program to teachers is detailed below. Once this has taken place, a core of teachers who are interested in using the technology would move to the training step.
Staff Training: 1-2 months initially
Interested staff would be trained with the already completed lesson plans with practice sessions consisting of staff. The first use within the classroom setting would be facilitated by the instructional technologist/librarian along with the teacher. Further content development would be ongoing with collaboration between teachers and instructional technologists/librarians. A shared collaboration space such as a blog or wiki would be used with continued demonstrations and training of other staff.
This new technology will not require any staffing additions to the school. The technology will be used by current classroom teachers primarily, as well as by existing librarian/ instructional technology facilitators during school hours. As far as set up and delivery to classrooms for scheduled use of the devices, student aides could be trained in basic care and maintenance under the supervision of the school librarian/media specialist.
Initially, there would be one person responsible for training staff in the use of the technology-this would be the school or district technology leader, instructional technologist, or teacher librarian/media specialist. This person would develop the training program, including the creation of example lesson plans for teacher demonstration and use. Once the technology and lesson plan resources are in place, the training of teachers would begin following promotion of the program.
Training would start with voluntary teachers-those willing to undergo training as a pilot group who are interested in using the technology in their classrooms. This would ideally be a mix of subject areas to compare across disciplines. Training would take place during Edcamps, times set aside during professional development days and during after school prep periods for the entire group of trainees. One on one training would take place during individual teacher’s prep periods.
Once teachers are initially trained, the first actual lesson plan with students would be conducted by the teacher with guidance from the teacher librarian/ Instructional Technologist. Teachers then would collaborate to develop further lesson plans and resources that would be shared.
Promotion & Marketing
Promotion within the school: During the prototype phase of the project, administrators and teachers would be invited into the library to watch a librarian-led guided tour with a small group of students. Teachers would also be invited on a librarian-led guided tour to try the technology themselves. This promotion would be done within the school via word of mouth. The Instructional Technologist or librarian would also hold “Edcamps” on use of the technology during professional development days. These Edcamps would introduce the technology to interested teachers, demonstrating how the technology can be used to supplement lesson plans and learning objectives. Once teachers have been trained and have implemented the technology, interested teachers would be invited into those classrooms to experience the technology in action and could talk with students following the lesson about what they learned. Following a period of evaluation, the efficacy of the lessons utilizing the technology would be shared during staff meetings, with further Edcamps and training opportunities for more teachers.
Promotion outside of the school: During conference periods, the technology could be available for parents to experience within the library or a classroom specifically set aside for demonstration.
Video of the use of the technology within classrooms, as well as small demonstrations could be given by the Instructional Technologist to other schools within the district. These videos, as well as success stories, could be published on the school district website. Local news outlets could showcase the technology through articles and newscasts.
Evaluation of the program would be constant and ongoing, with assessment of the effectiveness of the program divided into two types.
This data includes concrete, objective statistics including usage statistics and student performance statistics:
How often is the technology being used? If it not being used, determine the reasons: is it a technology issue or a content issue?
Does the technology increase student engagement, motivation, and achievement? This can be measured by increased participation in class, increased completion of assignments and less missing work, a decrease in the occurrence of classroom management issues, increased scores on assignments and tests.
The second form of assessment is far more telling and valuable, and consists of the stories that would come from students and teachers themselves in their use of the technology. Students could share how the technology allowed them to feel a part of the context of the material, how it caused a change in attitude, an emotional response, an a-ha! moment, the ability to see through someone else’s eyes, feelings of joy and excitement during a school history lesson! How often does one hear those stories?
Students should also be a part of the evaluation process, with student feedback solicited after using the technology-what worked or didn’t work for them, and what programs or lessons they would like to experience. Including students in the planning and evaluation processes is very empowering and effective, as evidenced by our course readings including the article about the San Franciso Public Library’s teen digital media space here.
Casey, M. E., & Savastinuk, L. C. (2007). Library 2.0: A guide to participatory library service.
Casey, M., & Stephens, M. (2008). Measuring progress.
Herold, B. (2015). L.A. iPad program an ongoing mess, evaluators find.
Ishizuka, K. (2016). Top Ten Tech 2016.
Kelly, R. (2016). 9 Ed Tech trends to Watch in 2016
Mathews, B. (2012). Think like a startup.
Pink, D. (2005). A Whole New Mind.
Reede, E. & Bailiff, L. (2016). When Virtual Reality Meets Education.
Stephens, M. (2008). Taming technolust: Ten steps for planning in a 2.0 world.
Stephens, M. (2010). The hyperlinked school library: engage, explore, celebrate.