Ontario Tech University
Learners today are not spending hours in front of television programs with their family, or choosing to pick up a paperback novel to thumb through on a Sunday afternoon. Rather, they are choosing to spend many hours outside of academics journeying through the digital world connecting to their surroundings in new and innovative ways. This innovation in technology creates an ever-changing landscape of education; as technology enhances so must teaching practices. Today’s educators are challenged to create and adopt the best practices that cover the breadth and depth of the curriculum, while also fostering an environment that incorporates the global competencies, and career pathway planning. While education has a long-standing practice of lesson planning and scaffolding of material, it is apparent that a structure and framework for choosing meaningful educational technology tools while creating engaging educational technology lessons is needed. It views design practice as part of teaching where the teacher is no longer the planning and implementer but someone who actually constructs, invents or designs new and innovative ways and approaches to schooling. This paper looks at ways in which we as educators can introduce and leverage technology in the classroom in order for us to help develop our students’ levels of empathy and cultural competence. A person’s ability to understand others feelings, beliefs, and attitudes is a catalyst for human connection; something today’s digital natives are looking for. Virtual Reality Technology could provide a new solution to the problem it may have created in the first place.
Keywords: Edtech, E-Learning, Virtual Reality, Social Presence, Asynchronous, Synchronous, Procedure Task, Strategic Task, Inform and Preform
With the ever-advancing technologies, often times it can seem overwhelming as an educator to attempt to stay relevant in the classroom. It is important for educators to be lifelong learners and continue to access professional development opportunities revolving around new educational technology in the classroom. Whether a teacher is looking to leverage digital to create relevant lessons or to effectively collaborate with colleagues, the sudden inspiration from the introduction of new technologies, pushes them on a journey of learning that causes reflection on their own best practice and encourages the fostering of meaningful technology tool choice for both themselves, and their students.
Possible Technological Frameworks for Educational Tool Choice
Substitution Augmentation Modification Redefinition (SAMR)
Every teacher’s foundational knowledge about educational technology is different. It is important that educational leaders recognize the value in building capacity for foundational computing skills within themselves and their learning community. Teachers can utilize technology using the framework of Substitution, Augmentation, Modification, and Redefinition (SAMR) (Wikiversity, 2018). This provides a structure of which to apply to the choosing of an educational technology. While some teachers may utilize technology to substitute for paper and pencil techniques, some may be redefining their classroom using new technological approaches or generating new innovative ideas. At the substitution phase technology is directly exchanged for a traditional method. Here the teacher might ask students to take notes on a google document rather than in a paper and pencil format, Worksheets might be transformed to an e-copy or a web-based document may be accessed on the internet for reading of information. This could also be applied from the student-centered idea where the students utilize PowerPoint (Microsoft, 2019a) or slides to present information rather than a poster board. At this step the educator should be asking the question what stands to improve the learning by replacing a traditional method. In some situations, paper and pencil may be a more effective tool than an online resource. During the Augmentation stage a direct switch for a traditional method occurs but it significantly enhances the learners experience with the content. Here the educator asks the question what does technology enhance through productivity of the learner in some way. At this stage students create products on information that incorporate their learning efficiently, for example, a student made video or the inclusion of interactive links. At the modification stage students are moving from the enhancement of learning to the transformation of learning. Here the application of technology may significantly change the desired outcome of a task or the learning outcomes entirely. Here the key question is does technology significantly alter the task? Here the learning is student-led and they could be collaborating on a cloud-based technology like G Suite tools (Google, n.d.), graphic organizer software or websites. Students will still be presenting information, but significant synthesis and analysis will occur. Lastly, the stage of Redefinition represents the height of application of educational technology and how it can transform student learning. Here educators ask themselves how the technology would transform the learning in a way that would not be possible at all without the use of technology. Students at this stage are typically interacting globally whether they are receiving feedback from students across the school boards, or globally. They are interacting on blogs, vlogs, social media, or Skype (Microsoft, 2019b), and could be soliciting professional, specialist, information or feedback from someone other than their teacher.
Technological Pedagogical Content Knowledge (TPACK)
Another framework commonly used is Technological, Pedagogical Content Knowledge (TPACK) (Koehler & Mishra, 2009). This involves three areas of sound educational best practice; knowledge of leveraging educational technology, knowledge of content, and pedagogical knowledge. Teachers all have a set of prior knowledge about the subject area they are teaching in, knowledge about how they teach and why they choose to teach that way for successful and effective implementation of the content. TPACK views education as having three constraints currently with regards to technology. First is the rapid rate which technology revolutionizes and is developed. It is difficult to continue to stay relevant with regard to the latest advancements in technology, software, and apps. The second restraint is that oftentimes software and new technology is designed for businesses rather than education. This means the students are often learning the new software and tools rather than focussing their learning on the content being taught. The third restraint is technology is difficult to differentiate for student needs. The teacher can adjust or accommodate a lesson for a student, but an instructional video or technological software cannot. Lastly, the fourth restraint is a teacher specific action where the teacher asks themselves what technology should be chosen to use and how. Rather than keeping the learning of the content at the forefront and asking how can the students learn today, teachers often ask which technology can be used and for what purpose.
Teachers should be following a three-step process to avoid these restraints when thinking in terms of TPACK. First specific and concise learning outcomes or goals should be chosen based on the content being taught. Clear and concise structure of the success criteria for students is required to effectively use the time allocated to the lesson. This helps to avoid unwanted behaviours and encourages positive engagement through the betterment of the “soft skills” and teaching digital literacy. Second, teachers should be selecting an activity type based on pedagogical content knowledge, to best facilitate a learning experience on the content being learned. As the educator works through the challenges of the implementation stage it is important to consider if the educational technology would require new lessons in itself for successful implementation, and would the time spent on teaching how to use the tools be worth the time lost on teaching the curriculum. When assessing the challenges of learning a new technology to implement, it is important to understand that it is okay not to be an expert. Focussing on learning the basics of the technology, consistently thinking how your students might react to similar questions or concerns about the technology, and working through these problems slowly is important to consider the usefulness of the educational technology. Lastly, a selection of the technology that will best support the learning should be selected. Educators should be prepared to spend some time learning the new technology themselves, in order to feel confident during the implementation stage when students may need help making connections to the information, rather than just learning the new technology that is introduced. The more prepared educators are with the technology the quicker they can assist the learners in using the technology and the faster they can focus on the content being taught.
Professional Learning Networks
It is important to assess Professional Learning Networks (PLN’s). A PLN acts as a supportive system of people that can provide feedback on the wide array of technologies available (Edublogs, n.d.). Rather than thinking of creating educational technology lessons as a solo venture, one can think of the process as a global collaboration. When working within the PLN, it is best to structure the feedback process to finalize and understand the scope of a project. It is suggested the following three subcategories can classify the process of implementing new educational technology lessons: Working through the challenges of implementing a new tool, reflecting on our new learning, and looking at student work. PLNs can provide excellent immediate feedback when troubleshooting issues within your classroom. When one member of a PLN is struggling, the other members can often offer support or provide solutions to the issue. It is important to note that authenticity within the PLN is vital to ensure a collaborative, positive, and growth mindset-based environment. Without having the confidence to share in the learning through questioning, research-based discussion and ultimately failures, there can be no way to grow as a group. Collaborative, reflective learning can be a very powerful tool when done correctly. “We do not learn from experience. We learn from reflecting on experience,” (Dewey, 1938). Student work and reflection on the products that are created are excellent pieces of evidence of the usefulness of the educational technology itself. PLNs can provide great insight into the possible outcomes to positive tool implementation, or can provide great feedback on the products created to help improve the use of a tool. Working together to establish assessment protocols and norms can help to structure the use of the PLN’s time in an effective and meaningful way (Valenzuela, 2018).
E-learning can be defined by the use of internet resources and technologies to enhance learning of new knowledge, skills, and performance-based tasks (Clark & Mayer, 2019; Ruiz, Mintzer & Leipzig, 2019). Distance learning and computer-assisted learning, both past concepts of learning strategies with technology, have now been grouped under the umbrella of E-Learning as technology integrates further in the learning process. Course content standardization, ease of tracking and recording, personalized learning, accessibility to information, ease of updating new user content, and ease of distribution are all benefits of utilizing an E-learning platform for learning. Creating E-Learning content involves many components in order to achieve successful implementation. These components involve development of content, management of content, delivery and standardization. The developed content is comprised of any material used to provide instruction. This could include multimedia resources like videos, slideshows, documents and more. It also includes the learning management systems that is being used as the system could allow the user to answer content directly on the course page. Management of content involves anything with the administrative functions of the content. This could include digital libraries, portals, e-portfolios and more. Asynchronous and Synchronous content are two methods of content delivery that can be utilized within an E-learning platform. Synchronous activities refer to real time content where learners are participating in discussion or engaging with the content during a scheduled time and the transmission of information and the receiving of information occur simultaneously. Asynchronous activities occur when the transmission and the receiving of information do not occur at the same time (Ruiz, Mintzer & Leipzig, 2019).
How do people learn from E-Learning?
No matter how or where a course is being offered, if the human cognitive process is ignored optimization of learning can be difficult. The design of an e-learning course must be based on sound instructional pedagogy and research backed cognitive theories on learning. Integration of graphics and data as a tool for learning, managing cognitive load, and directing the selection of information are all important characteristics of implementation of e-learning that need to be considered when developing e-learning environments.
It is important to create lessons that all students become active learners, taking an active role within the learning, rather than simply being participants listening and commenting when requested. Virtual Reality does four very important immersive experiences that can change the way information is taught in an online environment: immerses learners in training, teaches skills through simulation, helps learners acquire knowledge through interaction, and can alter behaviours enough that it could be used to teach the concept of empathy (Peck, 2018a). Virtual Reality allows the learner to enter into an immersive world with minimal distraction, while having the ability to fully capture the learner’s attention and boosting their retention of information. Learners can develop new skills through the simulation they choose to partake in. Regardless of the authentic nature of a simulation, learners are forced to make decisions in a live environment without risk of failure. With VR learners can receive first hand training on demand and on the job location. Learners can now interact with spatial representations of the theories and information they are learning about rather than simply reading it in a textbook. This is similar to the Experience Theory stated by Professor Edgar Dale where he argued that the medium in which we learn is inherently related to how much learning is retained. Just as social presence in an online learning environment is needed, learner interaction with the content material is just as important. A human’s ability to empathize with others is a catalyst for human connection and social interaction. It is also through this interaction that valuable emotional skills can be developed unintentionally. Learners can develop a sense of empathy through the relationship in which the simulation is created. For example, a learner can literally “walk a mile in a person’s shoes” and experience the daily interactions a person can have. This can be used for the understanding of class systems, and societal issues like discrimination.
Virtual Reality and E-Learning Combined
As each new wave of instructional delivery changes with time, history shows that with the development of new educational technology comes new predictions of improvements to learning. Many studies have been done for each new developing technology, yet all studies have failed to definitively prove or support that any single-medium is superior over another. In a meta-analysis by Bernard et al. (2004), evidence was found that when comparing electronic distance education like an e-learning platform to a traditional classroom approach effect sizes were close to zero, which indicated few practical differences learning. However, there was evidence to show that successful implementation was dependent upon the type of class and the educator’s efficacy within the online environment. Therefore, research has consistently shown that it is not about the medium in which the students are learning, it is about the instructional methods being used that produce effective learning.
Computers represent the most flexible learning the 21st century could create. No longer does the learner need to be within the confines of a classroom. Rather, learners can be in a different country, access learning at different times as their peers, and can have autonomy over their own learning as it can be self paced. Many organizations utilize e-learning for it’s cost effectiveness and simple ability to meet the needs of many, while also catering to the few. However, e-learning has been shown to lack the ability to provide relevant and cost-effective training in regards to skills and knowledge required for desired career outcomes. Virtual reality can provide a more affordable and authentic way to develop content, manage content, and standardize training protocols. The educator providing the simulation can create situations that are relevant and show the necessary learning required for the on the job training. The educator can also manage the system in a way that scaffolds information appropriately while providing curation of content like libraries or simulation exercises. Content delivery is done through experiential learning simulations where the learning can be synchronous or asynchronous.
Conclusions and Future Recommendations
Virtual reality can be utilized within E-Learning in three major ways throughout the learning process: Scenarification, E-Trips, and Virtual Reality Classrooms (Peck, 2018, a, b). Scenarification refers to the act of transforming learning content into scenarios (Peck, 2018a). This involves a high degree of immersion, and is most beneficial when it is impossible to mimic or simulate the same results in real life. E-trips allow learners to travel through space and time, exploring areas around the world at any point in time throughout history. This provides a much more cost-effective way to take field trips for valuable learning opportunities, that would otherwise be inaccessible due to the flexibility and access for learners that e-learning provides. Finally Virtual reality classrooms can change the landscape of e-learning education. Rather than discussing in a highly text-based way, or engaging with multimedia content during asynchronous activities, learners can enter into a virtual classroom that is capable of changing its walls at any time, and in any way. The classroom walls can dissolve at any time and learners can be transported to any location of the educators choosing. The virtual classroom acts as a tool for educators to scenerify and perform e-trips all within one lesson. Ultimately, learning in an e-learning format using virtual reality as a tool, has endless affordances and the only limitations are cost and imagination. It is important to think about uses for virtual reality now, so we are better prepared to react to the continual advancements in educational technology tools.
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