Extended reality integration in teacher candidate education
Dr. Kathleen Phillips, Department of Special Education, Rehabilitation, and Counseling
Teacher candidates need to create classroom environments conductive to student success. With no access to real classrooms during the pandemic, future teachers run the risk of losing the benefits of experiential observation. My project focuses on developing an effective immersive classroom environment in XR, which includes addressing environmental components that would reduce behavior issues, increase teaching impact, and provide a fully-immersed experience into organizing a classroom.
Teacher candidates in ESPE 5531 Methods and Procedures in Special Education need to experience various classroom setups to know the best way to teach children with disabilities. Typically, teacher candidates do live observations of actual K-12 classrooms and reflect on their experiences. Access to K-12 classrooms is getting more difficult because of various security clearances.
One of the assignments in my class asks candidates to reflect on what constitutes a learning environment appropriate for the needs of the students in their classroom. Candidates must recognize the importance of desk placement, traffic patterns, center designs, proximity to students, ease of access to every child or student, and placement of materials.
The need for XR redesign
During the COVID-19 pandemic, teacher candidates had no access to real classrooms. Simply watching video recordings does not give future teachers a sense of how environmental factors such as furniture distribution impacts their students' learning—particularly when those students are in wheelchairs!
Details about the medium
We used the open-source platform Hubs by Mozilla and the free cloud-based editor Mozilla Spoke to help candidates build a virtual classroom, experience the classroom arrangement, and reflect on its connection to student learning.
Mozilla Hubs is a VR chat and open-source virtual collaboration platform. Anyone can build 3D scenes and share them in a virtual "room" that could stay private or be made publicly accessible. Users, represented by avatars, can join the room, interact with others and with the 3D objects in the room, move about, and play multimedia. Particularly interesting is the use of directional 3D sound, which contributes to the sensation of an embodied experience.
Prerequisite XR knowledge
Before working on this project with the XReal Lab, I had no experience in virtual reality and only two of the students had any experience with virtual reality. The XReal Lab team was willing to create anything I wanted. With the support of the team, my students and I were all fully immersed within a week!
Assignment setup and implementation
I was overwhelmed by the willingness of students to take on this challenge. My idea was to provide unlimited flexibility and options within a solid framework of expectation. Students were provided a classroom template and a huge library of assets from which to choose and were encouraged to be as creative as possible in setting up the learning environment. What could have been a daunting task was viewed as a game and without prompting, every student created the ideal classroom environment. They spent many hours perfecting their classrooms. Students were proud to show off their finished projects and then became excited to make even more changes after visiting peers’ classrooms. Teaching from within the virtual environments was fun and engaging for students and the instructor!
Teacher candidates were provided with a quick tutorial that provided directions for selecting and creating classroom assets (e.g., desks, chairs, tables, etc.). This was a user-friendly tutorial developed by Yutong Liu, Instructional Technologist, and Kimberly Canchola, Student Assistant. This tutorial allowed students to easily find, select, and place components into the classroom environment.
The level of engagement and interest in the project was significantly more than with typical assignments. Students spent many hours creating and re-creating their rooms. After the first visit to four of the eight classrooms, nearly all students made improvements to their environments. Students demonstrated, through conversation, an understanding of targeted standards. For example, one student stated that he thought the classroom design was sufficient for students in wheelchairs but when he virtually visited the class, he realized that the desk placement would not work and he rearranged the class setup. Another student had desks set up in rows and after visiting several of his peers’ classrooms, he completely changed his organization to reflect more ease of movement and functionality for the teacher and the students.
Lessons learned and tips for faculty
The biggest takeaway I got from this project was that opportunities for creating novel and exciting courses are available and support from the xREAL Lab is at our fingertips. We can think “outside of the box” and provide 21st-century learning experiences even when we know little or nothing about technology. By moving away from traditional methods of teaching, everything becomes possible. The xREAL lab faculty and staff are ready and willing to provide support so even with minimal knowledge of technology, it is easy to create amazing lessons!