Here's how two Shanghai educators use VR in the classroom

Teachers from YCIS, Puxi and Wellington College International Shanghai talk getting tech-savvy and keeping up with the times

Photograph: courtesy Wellington College International Shanghai
The world is getting more and more tech-savvy every day – and the classroom is no exception. Here, David Crosby, Director of Systems and Data at Yew Chung International School of Shanghai, Puxi and ICT teacher at Wellington College International Shanghai James Dyson share how they're keeping up with the times and incorporating virtual reality into their lessons.
Wellington College International Shanghai
Photograph: Courtesy Wellington College International Shanghai 

Wellington College International Shanghai

Wellington College International Shanghai has invested in two separate types of virtual reality equipment for specific VR-based lessons and activities. The college bought a large number of VR headsets and a smaller number of mixed reality headsets combined with Asus gaming laptops to allow us to create content.

During the Arts Festival this year our art department produced a video featuring Year 13 pupils who talked about a series of art pieces: ‘Mona Lisa’ by da Vinci, ‘Starry Night’ by Van Gogh and ‘The Birth of Venus’ by Botticelli.

The video was then used to introduce pupils to the artworks before they used the VR headsets to experience these pieces using the Arts Plunge app, which allowed them to see the artwork reimagined in 3D. The concept behind this approach was that it should allow pupils to shift their perspective and consider art from a new angle, both literally and metaphorically. This ability to see the work up close and in 3D was something we couldn’t have created without the VR equipment.

Our art department’s next phase in VR adoption is to use the mixed reality headsets and hand controls to allow pupils to create virtual 3D models that can then be physically printed by our 3D printers. This is currently being trialled with Year 11, who are using Google Blocks and SculptrVR from the Steam Store to create inspirational works in a completely free and open workspace.

These initial works are then taken as a 3D model, and slicing software supports are added to allow the model to be printed. As with most lessons, the teacher works with the pupils to challenge their art, keeping their focus on the artistic concept and what they’re attempting to do. The VR, in this case, works as a new medium in which traditional skills can be enhanced and further developed.

At present we’re slowly taking VR from an interesting add-on to a mainstream tool. Alongside the sculpture work, we’re capturing video in 360 degrees using the school’s extensive bank of 360 cameras and underwater cameras, enabling pupils to create their own VR experiences. As we expand this bank of resources, we’ll be able to provide guided experiences for pupils in an increased range of environments and places they otherwise wouldn’t be able to explore.

James Dyson, ICT teacher

Yew Chung International School of Shanghai, Puxi (YCIS, Puxi)
Photograph: Yew Chung International School of Shanghai

Yew Chung International School of Shanghai, Puxi (YCIS, Puxi)

How do you incorporate VR into your lessons?
VR started off [at school] as a project with my IB students at YCIS, Puxi Secondary. The idea was that they’d generate their own virtual environments that could ultimately be incorporated into the VR world using Oculus Rift. From there, we purchased a variety of environments that would become the interactive components of projects run by the Primary section. These project sessions for Primary students would be devised and run by IB students.

How does VR enhance your students’ learning experience?
The Lower Secondary learning experience is enhanced as teachers can take the students into experiences that they would otherwise never be able to go. Our younger students have explored ancient Egypt, lived on a space station and are about to embark on a quest through Ancient Rome. The older students are becoming immersed in new programming languages through shared learning with the younger students.

What role does the educator play during the class while students are using the technology?
Almost none. It’s all very student-led.

Where do you predict VR education is heading in the future?
VR is an area that’ll ultimately become a part of everyday life in education. We have a functioning VR suite in Secondary, and I introduced two VR areas into Primary. The teachers in Primary are very excited about the possibilities that the technology offers, and our goal is to continue to develop the environments that suit and meet the needs of our teachers. In recent months, the programming has been introduced to Year 11, a whole curriculum area down from where we started. This implies that these younger students will have had more hands-on experience with the technologies, and who knows what they’ll come up with? Virtually, anything is possible.

David Crosby, Director of Systems and Data