VR Provides College students New Methods to Study
Kristen Powell, assistant technology trainer and consultant for the Chester County Intermediate Unit, uses VR to help students with special needs.
Powell trains teachers on how to use tablet computers to guide students through the programs and often lets teachers borrow equipment for several weeks to work with small groups of students. Some schools run by the agency are considering purchasing their own VR equipment so they can access the tools regularly.
Powell says it is difficult to convey implicit social cues and read non-verbal cues. “There’s only so far that you can go with direct lessons. I can show a picture to the students, but it’s not real life. For me, virtual reality is that great bridge between direct teaching and real situations. “
Typical classroom role-playing exercises sometimes feel “made up,” says Greg Miller, director of technology support and systems engineering at CCIU, who has experience teaching students with autism. Virtual reality offers students a digital experience instead of a real one, he says, but technology can often more accurately reflect real-world interactions than even face-to-face exercises.
“When you go into the community, these environmental influences and situation variables don’t always translate well into direct individual play or lessons,” says Miller. “With VR, you can model the environment based on the real world. You start to stop relying on the instructor and build this path to a place where the students can stand alone. “
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Alleviate fear of visiting new places
Students with autism or other special needs often fear the prospect of visiting new physical settings – especially those that present new sensory experiences. To address this challenge, educators at Danvers Public Schools in Massachusetts developed a series of virtual reality tours to help students familiarize themselves with new spaces before actually visiting them in person.
“Our school psychologists have told us about students who feared these changes,” said Jeffrey Liberman, director of educational technology for the district. “This was one way we thought we could help these students practice ahead of time with some of the places they are going.”
Prior to the 2019-2020 school year, the district filmed a tour of the high school on a 360-degree camera, and middle school students explored the hallways with VR headsets from ASUS before visiting the new building for the first time. Since then, the district has created a virtual walking tour of downtown that students with special needs take on a life skills course. The district is also creating a virtual tour of its middle school. Officials have handed the 360-degree camera over to the high school’s video production department, which will work directly with the district’s student services department to create future VR videos.