5 ways to boost VR-content creation

When it comes to virtual reality (VR) in the classroom, consuming the content is only half of the learning magic, said Michael Fricano and Gabriel Yanagihara, teachers at Iolani School in Hawaii. Fricano and Yanagihara spoke to educators about developing students to be content creators during their presentation, “Changing the (Virtual) Reality of Education,” at ISTE 2017 in San Antonio.

“[Virtual reality] experiences provide a high level of engagement when consumed, but creating VR offers an entirely different experience,” Fricano said in an email interview. When students create virtual content, they exercise creativity and hone critical skills, including research, planning, team collaboration, and video production and editing, among others, Fricano said.

“It’s not just about the VR,” he said, “but what can be included inside the VR experience.”

Taking your students from consumers to creators does not have to be a monumental feat -- or cost. Fricano offers these tips and tools to get started:

Don’t let cost be a barrier. A common misconception is that virtual reality is a costly venture. Not true, Fricano said. He recommends students and teachers start with Google Street View, an app that offers panoramic views of streets and landmarks throughout the world. The free app, available for iOS and Android devices, offers a library of user-generated images and comes with a 360-degree tool that works with users’ phones, allowing them to take panoramic photos. “This is my go-to app when working with students on VR projects and the app that I introduce to teachers first at all of my workshops and conference presentations,” Fricano said.

Fricano also recommends Thinglink VR Editor and CoSpaces for content creation. “I’ve done lots of student projects with Thinglink VR,” he said, noting that it is “relatively inexpensive and one of the easiest VR creation tools because it was designed with classrooms in mind.” Premium accounts for teachers are available at an annual fee of $120, Fricano said.

CoSpaces is a web-based tool that lets users create interactive 3D scenes. Fricano’s eighth-grade English students used CoSpaces last year to re-create scenes from “To Kill a Mockingbird.” The company recently launched CoSpaces EDU, which “allows teachers more administrative control of their students’ projects,” Fricano said.

For teachers who want to go deeper with virtual reality projects, Fricano recommends picking up a 360-degree camera. “There are now a wide variety of simple 360-degree cameras that you can find under $500,” he said, noting that the Ricoh Theta S is popular among educators because of its ease of use and affordability.

Collaborate with peers and students. Since VR is still new, activities and lesson plans are sparse, Fricano said. His VR projects came from planning sessions with his team of teachers. “We designed the projects, the activities and the lesson plans together so that they supported the learning objectives in the classroom,” he explained.

Encourage students to pitch ideas, Fricano said. Considering their ideas and finding ways to incorporate them into activities help foster students’ enthusiasm to be content creators. “The goal is to get students comfortable enough creating content in VR that when given the choice of what tools they want to use in the future, VR can be included in that list,” he said. “And when a student has an amazing idea for how VR can be utilized in a project, we can be there to support them.”

Share the experience. Let your students share their work with the world. This is the most important part of the project experience, Fricano said. “This provides students an authentic audience and encourages them to produce quality products,” he said.

Be flexible -- and fearless. Fricano encourages teachers who are just starting out with virtual reality to “embrace the fear, perpetuate the unknown.” Teachers are preparing students for the real world, he said, and part of that process includes stretching boundaries and learning new skills. “Our students can’t get there if their teachers are unsure, uncomfortable and timid in the use of new tools and resources,” he said.

Give yourself a break. You don’t have to be the expert here, Fricano said. Teachers can take the role of guide or facilitator with these projects and let students run with their creativity. “Our students are digital natives. They were born into a world full of ever-evolving technology; and whatever tool we throw at them, they are going to pick it up quick and run with it,” Fricano said. “Our job is to ensure they use those tools appropriately and safely and encourage them to create quality products that benefit the world.”

Need more? Fricano offers more tools, ideas and examples of student work at his website, EdTechnocation.

Kanoe Namahoe is the editor for SmartBrief on EdTech and SmartBrief on Workforce.

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