Virtual reality is here and it’s only going to get bigger and bigger in the next few years.
If you don’t know much about virtual reality and don’t believe me, go to YouTube on your smartphone and search for “360 VR” (360 degrees, virtual reality). Choose a video that looks interesting and start watching, but move your phone around. That’s right: you’re controlling where the camera goes.
Now, that’s cool. But can you use VR to teach? I’m sure there’s going to be tons of apps and equipment hitting the markets, but you can already do some activities in class with VR that’s already available, and you won’t have to spend more than $20.
Introducing: Google Cardboard.
Google Cardboard costs $15. And while you might be thinking, “Why would I spend fifteen dollars on a small box of cardboard?”, trust me, it’s worth it.
Those two lenses is where the magic happens (and the reason why you pay more than $0.99 for this thing).
To start using this thing, first download an applicable app. Here’s a good list from the Guardian. So far, I’ve only checked out the Cardboard app and Verse (now called “Within”).
Follow the instructions on the app, put it in your viewer, plug in some headphones, and let the journey begin.
Note of caution: Make sure your surroundings are safe before you dive deep into a virtual world. It’s easy to bump into things if your mind thinks you’re under the sea or on another planet. Also be aware that some people get dizzy or seasick while using VR.
So maybe you try it out and you think, “OK, it’s awesome. But how can this help my students?”
Glad you asked. I’ve got some ideas about what can be done with just one smartphone and Google Cardboard.
Activity 1: “What do you see?!”
This would be especially good for a lower-level ESL speaking class. You could pre-teach “there is/are” and some present simple and present continuous.
Then, strap your Google Cardboard onto one lucky student’s head. The first time they say “Whoa!”, encourage the rest of the class to say, “What do you see?!” Then the student who is on a roller coaster, or on stage with U2 can describe what’s happening: “There are a lot of people. The car is driving up a mountain. Whoa! Rocks are falling down!”
Since their classmate is whirling around and looking up and down, it’s fun for the other students too. They’ll hopefully be imagining what their classmate is doing.
Activity 2: First-hand research
The Verse app has a collection of educational stories on some serious issues, including dolphin intelligence, Voodoo ceremonies in Haiti, and the experiences of Syrian refugees. If your students can handle topics like that, you could use virtual reality as a source for material to write or speak about. If your class is working on a unit about immigration, for example, there’s a Verse story about immigration to New York. That could be one of the sources for a project.
Although not all of the videos for VR have people speaking English, many of them do. You could use them as listening material and it would probably be a bit more engaging than the dialogs in your textbook.
Note: Obviously, if you only have one Google Cardboard, you would need to figure out something that the other students could do while waiting for their turn, and if you have a big class, it might not be feasible. However, if you plan on using VR extensively as a source of listening material, and depending on the ages and financial capabilities of your students, you might just require that each student buy one. It would be amazing to have a listening class taught with entirely VR material. If anyone out there does that, please let me know!
Activity 3: The Reward
OK, this is not really an activity. It’s just using VR as a tool for classroom management.
If you have younger students, they might be very eager to try virtual reality and see all the cool stuff on there (who am I kidding, I feel the same way and I’m not exactly “young” anymore). You can use your Google Cardboard as a reward for the student who does the best on a test, has the most attendance, helps out in some way, etc. The other students will see how much fun the goodie-two-shoes is having in that NASA space station that it might convince them to shape up so they can get their chance next week.
That’s it! I admit it’s a very short list. I don’t think the practicality of using VR in the classroom isn’t quite at the tipping point yet, but if you’re looking for new ways to experiment in the classroom, you can start off with a few ideas like these.
If anyone has used virtual reality in their classes, whether ESL/EFL or otherwise, please let me know how it went. Also, if there are any other activities you can think of that utilize this technology, please share.
Here are a few other virtual reality headsets that work with most smartphones: