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Professional Education

The Immersive Learning Faire: A New HGSE Event Demonstrates the Power & Potential of Augmented & Virtual Reality in Tomorrow’s Classrooms

With dazzling visual imagery, compelling interactivity, and unique storytelling capabilities, augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR) are pushing the boundaries of innovative technologies. Yet as the power of AR and VR becomes more fully realized, the technology’s broader application and transformative potential has emerged as a dynamic and cutting-edge tool for education professionals.

Nowhere was this more evident than at The Immersive Learning Faire, held on July 11, 2018, at the Harvard Graduate School of Education in Cambridge, MA. This first-time event was designed and implemented by Professional Education at HGSE as part of Leadership: An Evolving Vision (LEV), a leadership development program from The Principals’ Center.

“Our goal is to make LEV a transformative learning experience for principals and heads of school. To do that, we work on strategy, culture, narrative, instructional design, and other knowledge and skills that leaders need,” said Joe Blatt, faculty chair of Leadership: An Evolving Vision. “But we also want to stretch everyone’s vision of learning, and the potential of technology is one key to that.”

The Immersive Learning Faire offered more than 150 LEV program participants the opportunity to learn more about augmented and virtual reality though hands-on demonstrations from 11 separate organizations working in the immersive media space. With a wide array of audiences in mind - elementary school through higher education - these groups have created devices and/or software that that not only offer opportunities for educators to enhance or re-imagine curricula, but also aim to deepen student understanding. Additionally, the interactive nature allows educators to expand their curricula to include new areas for application, including health, ecology, and design.

For example, Brick Simple has designed a VR program aimed at high school students that reinforces cardiopulmonary resuscitation skills by taking students through a realistic simulation of a cardiac incident. In addition, the Brookline Interactive Group has created the Public VR Lab as a way to incorporate more diversity and accessibility within the AR and VR community. Another exhibitor, Hoverlay, has worked to demystify the augmented reality process by offering a straightforward approach to creating AR content, including holograms. E-Planetarium has introduced virtual reality-inspired shows, movies, and digital presentations to student learning environments – all taking place within a portable dome-like structure.

Additional exhibitors included CoSpaces Edu, Ecolearn, Fitchburg State, Learning, Innovation, and Technology (LIT) Lab, Muzzy Lane/Kid Citizen, Nearpod, and zSpace – each offering a creative and compelling take on the technology.

The session also included expert presentations from Harvard and visiting faculty – Chris Dede, HGSE professor; Rus Gant, Harvard University virtual reality designer; and Judy Perry, MIT Scheller Teacher Education Program researcher. These speakers focused on issues ranging from the history of VR to implementing immersive media within education settings to the future of AR and VR in the classroom.

“By giving our participants exposure to virtual and augmented reality – not just through presentation, but also through the direct, hands- and headsets-on experience of these nascent technologies – we invite them to start thinking now about decisions they will need to make for their teachers and students in the next decade,” Blatt said.

This concept gets to the heart of the overriding mission of LEV, as well as the entire portfolio of leadership development programs within The Principals’ Center – to support school leaders as they work to create transformational change within their learning environments. In developing new program components, such as this year’s Immersive Learning Faire, Professional Education assists HGSE faculty in creating opportunities for educators to evaluate their current school practices and identify new ways to make an impact – now and into the future.

“I always thought my district was very progressive, but this experience taught me about all of the new opportunities that I can bring back to my students,” said LEV program participant Robin Magac. “Our kids don’t go everywhere, but AR/VR brings them everywhere.”

The event demonstrated that the world of immersive media is evolving rapidly. As a result, education leaders will need to continuously explore the ever-changing capabilities of this technology as they work to tailor it to the needs of their individual learning environments.

“The Immersive Learning Faire provided a wonderful opportunity for educators to experience the power of virtual, augmented, and mixed reality,” Dede said. “It also allowed participants to understand the educational and historical foundations of immersion and to learn strategies for effective investment and implementation.” 

​Written by Stephanie Kaufman