Virtually a new way to learn

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Messenger photo by Linda Dillman
Curt Dennis, technology director for Jefferson Local Schools, demonstrates a virtual reality system intended for classroom use.

(Posted Nov. 21, 2019)

By Linda Dillman, Staff Writer

Virtual reality is helping West Jefferson middle school and high school students visit destinations across the globe from the comfort of their classrooms. Technology and a grant from Battelle are making it possible.

“The VR (virtual reality) devices allow us to provide virtual field trips so that students can experience a location virtually that they may never have the opportunity to see and to enhance a particular topic they might be learning about,” said Curt Dennis, district technology director.

“When talking about the Roman Colosseum, what better way to bring that to life than to take them there virtually and allow them to see it in a 360-degree view? Another great example is our eighth-grade class goes to Washington D.C. each year, but some students are not able to go.”

While their classmates are in the nation’s capital, students who remain behind can virtually experience many of the same monuments and places.

“Students all learn in different ways, and these virtual reality carts will just add another way for them to learn more about different topics,” Dennis said.

The district is using Google Expeditions, an application that gives teachers information and prepared questions to help guide students through the virtual experience.

The system also allows a teacher to direct everyone’s attention to a certain spot within the virtual tour from a tablet where the instructor can also see where everyone is looking, draw on their screens, and pause the experience so that everyone focuses on the same point.

“These can be used across all subject areas, but we’ll probably see the most use in our social studies and science classes.  Right now, Google has about 1,000 different expeditions available,” Dennis said.

“The other nice thing is, someone using Google Streetview (which is a free app) on their cell phone can create a 360-degree picture wherever they are, and those can be uploaded into Google Expeditions for others to experience.”

The cost for a pair of carts with 30 devices each (Homido Viewers, Magellan Android devices, teacher tablets, and professional development) was approximately $18,000 and funded by a Battelle grant.

During a Nov. 11 school board meeting, Dennis introduced board members to the virtual reality goggles. He said the district is fortunate to have an organization like Battelle that brings STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) programs to the forefront of the district’s education program.

Jefferson Local’s virtual reality system is housed in the middle/high school media center and used in grades six through 12. Dennis said his department will explore having a cart or two at the elementary in the future.

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