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AUSD Virtual Reality

Arcadia Unified

Arcadia Unified

Roselind Zeng, Staff Writer

On Jan. 19, AUSD hosted a Virtual Reality (VR) demonstration for a limited group of 20-30 students and staff as another step towards full digitalization within the district. The event, which was held at the Arcadia Education Center, provided attendees a chance to experience VR firsthand through a headset and projector provided on site.

The event came as no surprise— as gaming becomes more entrenched in a more immersive platform, education systems are seriously considering the use of such an interactive interface to aid student performance. At the event, three guests speakers spoke of their experiences within VR: Ms. Elise Ogle, an expert from Stanford University’s Virtual Human Interaction Lab; Mrs. Christine Ma, a teacher at AHS; and Mr. Greg Gazanian, who serves as the Chief Strategy and Innovation Officer for AUSD.

For Ms. Ogle, who surrounds herself with research pertaining to the application of VR technologies in the modern lifestyle, the stance that AUSD has taken towards VR and technology as a whole is immensely positive. She sees there being “two different ways in which it could be incorporated. There can be virtual field trips, which could animate processes… rather than having students read about it in a textbook. It’s another way to teach S.T.E.M. subjects, and to get people to be excited about S.T.E.M.” Going on into the specifics of compatibility within classes, she predicts that this implementation of VR will impact “anything that requires visualization like math, viewing statistics in a different way; art and other creative mediums, where ideas can be exported or 3D-printed; and science, where projects and experiments that lack funding for labs and equipment can take advantage of VR.” However, what Ms. Ogle finds problematic are the costs of acquiring and maintaining such systems across a district, especially in those that lack a Chief Strategy and Innovation Officer. Another issue stems from the availability of quality content— a majority of systems are geared towards role-playing games, and much work still needs to be done before VR can be properly integrated into classrooms nationwide.

Mrs. Ma, who teaches English at AHS, recognizes that there are valuable lessons to be taken away from VR use in a learning environment. “There are experiences where you can be in someone else’s shoes— their socioeconomic status, their age, and their different perspectives can allow you to better understand the particular person you’re ‘living’ as.” She goes on to document the similarities between the first film and VR user experiences. The all-encompassing atmosphere can further the curiosity and peak the interest of viewers for the material. Yet, she points out that the individuals producing VR experiences are sorely unprepared for this new medium, and are resorting to conventional techniques employed in traditional filmmaking. Mrs. Ma envisions a new generation of filmmakers, designers, and creators who have grown up with VR headsets coming together to build their own experiences, and will one day break the boundaries between the digital plane and reality.

Mr. Gazanian, who works as Chief Strategy and Innovation Officer for the district, refutes many of the points made by the previous speakers. Though there are issues with the pricing of all this newly developed equipment, the root of the problem lies in the lack of operable, educational realities. But, the rewards on the other side are worth fighting for; children can go through situations they’d never find themselves in in their everyday lives. On top of it all, they have the freedom to experience these scenarios in controlled, safe environments. However, it’s just as important to recognize the risky behavior that this might incite, as some students find it difficult to distinguish between reality and what they see while wearing a headset. Mr. Gazanian states that “one of the most important things to do is to reflect before and after these short simulations, and talking together as a group. The most important core values to take away from such an experience is the ability to collaborate with others through reflection and discussion.” Safety is always the priority, and safety parameters are always in place to guide students towards the right path.

As Fulldive VR’s demand grows with each passing day, education is no exception to the upgrade. Hopefully, this won’t be the last time our district chooses to give VR a go, and we’ll all get to experience a whole new world of knowledge.

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