Pakuranga College ICT faculty leader, Charlie Smith, and teacher, Tyne Crow see VR as a technology that's going to grow in the near future. To build teacher capacity, they have begun by developing a culture within the school where people were comfortable using the VR technology. They purchased equipment and have initiated a game development group, where students can code and develop 3D games during lunchtimes and after school. They describe the technology they are using with students and the benefits for learning.
Charlie Smith: There we go. And now I’m in a virtual world.
Tyne Crow: So we’re using virtual reality because we strongly believed it was going to be a brand new way of interacting with computers.
Charlie Smith: It’s some really interesting technology and it’s definitely going to grow. So we‘ve decided to get in early and build some capacity. We needed to have a culture within the school where people were comfortable creating virtual augmented reality technology and we needed to have capacity in the staff to make that happen as well. So the only way to do that is to buy the gear and to get doing it. So when we’ve been recruiting, that’s been very much at the forefront of our minds, trying to make sure we’ve got people who have that same vision and it fits very well with the overall vision of the school as well. We are a future focused school.
Tyne Crow: So we got some money from a game development competition and we also got some money from the school innovation fund which was enough to purchase the computer hardware to run it and the virtual reality hardware.
Charlie Smith: In terms of the set up, what we have to have, we have to have two of these light house stations which are powered which need to be able to see each other. You’ve got to have a powerful gaming box down there with a high-end graphics card. Then of course there’s the head mounted display which unfortunately these days is still wired but in time, these of course will become wireless and a lot more will be built into it and the technology will become an awful lot cheaper.
With this is the hand tracking technology, they’re very, very accurate indeed. It’s millimetre perfect in terms of how well it tracks the positioning of these in the real world which makes it a very immersive experience for the user. We had an opportunity to refurbish this computer lab. We wanted to have open spaces, we wanted to have groups of students and we wanted to have a lot more flexibility about how we used the classroom. By having a more flexible layout, it does mean that we’ve been able to use the vive effectively, we wouldn’t have had this space which, for standing room, virtual reality, you need a decent sized open space.
Tyne Crow: The software students have been using to create their virtual reality games is Unity 3D. You can download a lot of assets that will run the virtual reality software. So it means that without much coding, they can create a virtual reality app. It’s also free to use for Education and there’s free licences for anyone. You only have to start paying for it if you actually start developing commercial product. The other software that’s really important is the 3D modelling software. The particular one they’re using here is called Blender which is an open-sourced 3D modelling programme.
Now the students could have created the game with 3D models that other people have made, but they were really determined to create a game that seemed handcrafted and original. So we see the virtual reality fitting in in several places in the school. One place where it fits is extending what the students do in the digital technologies classroom. They’re learning programming, web development, computational thinking. Virtual reality’s an exciting context for them to apply those things. So at the moment we have extra curricular groups and students working after school to create content in the virtual reality.
A lot of them are building on skills that they’ve learnt in the classroom. We were expecting that we might have to scaffold that a bit and work ahead to try and point them in the right direction, but luckily they’ve actually taught themselves a lot of it and ran ahead with developing stuff with it. It’s really good, you give them a tool and they’ll teach themselves how to use it because they’re so engaged with it.