By SAMANTHA WARNKE
As a student pursuing a degree in educational technology, I started to take a closer look at the technology that I use in my own classroom. I teach kindergarten and first grade in a self-contained special education setting. I feel fortunate to have access to a few different types of technology in my classroom like a Promethean Board that I use to deliver most of my whole group instruction, and several Augmentative and Alternative Communication (AAC) devices that my students who are non-verbal use to help them communicate. Prior to taking several courses in Educational Technology, I thought that this was all the technology that I needed for my students; however, I have recently started learning about other types of technology emerging in classrooms around the country.
One type of technology that I never considered for my classroom is immersive technology which is “technology that blurs the line between the physical world and digital or simulated world, thereby creating a sense of immersion” (Donally, 2018a, p. 2) and includes Augmented Reality, Virtual Reality, and Mixed Reality (AR/VR/MR). I had previously heard of Virtual Reality for video games and Augmented Reality for Snapchat lenses, but I never thought of being able to use AR/VR/MR in a school setting. After learning more about the innovative ways that AR/VR/MR can be used in the classroom, I decided that this is something that I would like to try with my own students.
I developed a pilot idea for bringing immersive technology to my classroom. At first, I was skeptical that immersive technology could work with Kindergarten & first grade students, however, I found several examples of elementary school teachers successfully implementing it in their classrooms. One example I saw shared how students were able to use immersive technology to “visit” places such as Antarctica and the North Pole (Danhoff, 2017). This gave me inspiration for activities that I could incorporate into my district’s curriculum that would enhance my students’ learning. Through the use of immersive technology, students have the ability to see places and have experiences that wouldn’t otherwise be possible.
I read another article that explained different types of AR/VR/MR tools that educators have been using in classrooms across the country such as the Merge Cube. The Merge Cube, “a foam cube that acts as a marker to view AR experiences through different apps” (Cauthers & Cauthers, 2018, para. 9), intrigued me because it is an inexpensive and easy way to bring immersive technology into the classroom. Merge Cubes are inexpensive to purchase, with prices ranging from $1 to $20 (Donally, 2018b). The affordable price and versatility of the Merge Cube inspired me to begin planning instructional activities for my learners with Immersive Technology and Merge Cubes. My plan is to buy two Merge Cubes that my students will be able to use with several different free or inexpensive apps. I have access to a few iPads, as well as my own iPhone, which I will be able to use to download apps for the Merge Cubes.
One app that I am particularly interested in trying with my students is called MyARquarium which “allows you to select from more than 60 fish variations in your cube aquarium and feed them” (Donally, 2018b). I have always wanted to have an aquarium in my classroom to help my students with developing the responsibility of caring for a pet, but I have yet to get one because of all the work involved with taking care of the fish. MyARquarium will allow my students to have this experience without me cleaning a fish tank or bringing it home over school breaks. It will also help strengthen my students’ daily living skills, which is something that we focus on a lot in my classroom. One of the main goals of the program that I teach in is to prepare students for their future jobs and living independently. MyARquarium could supplement and enhance the life skills lessons I teach in the classroom and bring my students’ learning to the next level.
I also plan to use Merge Cube to help my students develop their Social Emotional Learning (SEL) skills. SEL and managing emotions is another primary focus in my classroom. One SEL app that I would like my students to use is called MomentAR. The blog post “Moments AR - Day 9 #31DaysofARVRinEDU” explains how the MomentAR app, developed by Kevin Chaja, focuses on SEL in augmented reality. The author of the blog post, Marialice Curran, states “The app brings access for each student to an entirely new level by creating a foundation built on empathy and compassion. This emphasis on SEL allows students to identify feelings through developing and managing emotions, thoughts, and values” (Curran, M., 2019). It is extremely important for my students to be able to develop their social/emotional skills in order to be successful in the future. The MomentAR app for Merge Cube will provide my students with an engaging way to build these skills and prepare for their future jobs.
These are only a few examples of how immersive technology can provide students with experiences that they would not be able to have otherwise. My overall goal for this pilot project is to provide my students with deeper learning opportunities and access to some of the amazing immersive technology that has been developed. If I find that my students have success with using Merge Cubes, I would like to expand our use of immersive technology and bring even more AR/VR/MR tools to my classroom in the future.
Samantha Warnke is a School Community Based (SCB) Special Education Teacher in Montgomery County, Maryland. Currently a student in the Educational Technology Program at Loyola University Maryland. Contact Warnke at email@example.com.
- Cauthers, B. & Cauthers, J. (2018, July 9). 5 augmented and virtual reality creation tools for students. Retrieved from https://shakeuplearning.com/blog/5-augmented-and-virtual-reality-creation-tools-for-students/
- Curran, M. (2019, March 9). Moments AR - Day 9 #31DaysofARVRinEDU. Retrieved from https://www.arvrinedu.com/post/2019/03/09/moments-ar-day-9-of-31daysofarvrinedu
- Danhoff, C. (2017, November 25). AR and VR: A look in today’s classroom. Retrieved from https://www.arvrinedu.com/single-post/A-Look-into-Todays-Classroom
- Donally, J. (2018a). Learning transported: Augmented, virtual and mixed reality for all classrooms. Portland, OR: International Society for Technology in Education.
- Donally, J. (2018b, March 14). The 10 Best VR apps for classrooms using Merge VR’s new Merge Cube. Retrieved from https://www.edsurge.com/news/2018-03-14-the-10-best-vr-apps-for-classrooms-using-merge-vr-s-new-merge-cube