People of a certain generation might remember the large, creaky TV carts, equipped with VCRs or DVD players, that were rolled into classrooms to watch movies and educational TV shows.
But these days students are more likely to see carts full of Chromebooks and iPads coming through the door than the boxy tube TVs of yore. Soon, classrooms in Nova Scotia will be able to add virtual reality (VR) headsets to the list.
The Department of Education issued a tender on Thursday to buy 516 VR headsets.
“That kind of technology can be used across a whole host of disciplines,” said Sue Taylor-Foley, the director of learning resources and technology for the Department of Education and Early Childhood Development.
“We’re particularly looking at science right now in Grade 7 and 8 with our partnership with Ocean School but certainly it’s useful across many disciplines for students to feel immersed and connected.”
The aforementioned Ocean School is a new web-based project produced by the National Film Board of Canada and Dalhousie University that combines linear video along with virtual and augmented reality to guide students through a series of learning journeys about the ocean.
The program is currently being piloted in 17 schools across Nova Scotia and according to Taylor-Foley, will become part of the provincial science curriculum over the next few years.
VR headsets can retail anywhere from about $15 to upwards of $1,500. Some models are standalone and others require a smartphone or similar device to be used. Taylor-Foley says the department does not have a preference in model and will examine all the options available to them.
Brian Mrezar, a teacher at Halifax Central Junior High, says VR could open up many opportunities for learning due to its ability to put students in situations that they may not have been possible in the past.
“Like if we wanted to go to, say Joggins Fossil Cliffs,” said Bryan Mrezar, a teacher at Halifax Central Junior High.
“If we’re not able to get there or we don’t have the funds to do that, there might be a VR opportunity to put on the headsets and see what that looks like, or you know, planetarium visits. It makes it accessible for everyone across the province.”
WATCH: Dalhousie, NFB launch new ocean VR learning tool
Grade 9 student Maya Dixon says that she enjoys the hands-on approach of VR learning tools and thinks a lot of students could benefit from it.
“Some students in the classroom … can learn better when they’re actually doing it themselves instead of having a teacher go through or read it to you so I think it’s a really good experience,” she said.
While the immersive impact of VR technology may seem fairly obvious, Mrezar says that there are many other benefits that come from using tech in the classroom. One example: collaboration.
“Putting a worksheet on a computer doesn’t necessarily make it better but I think the things that come along with the technology like that collaboration, the ability to have a thought, inquire about it and then go and find the research themselves, that’s what really drives that motivation,” he said.