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Increasingly, as 76% of U.S. kids play video games weekly, educators are looking to video games as a solution. The gamification of remote learning is moving to the next level through immersive virtual reality (VR) content, which is already used to train employees in construction, motor and aviation industries. Exciting game-based elements can entrance students with their variations of accessibility and creative communities. Instead of watching a lecture, students learning in video game-type simulations gain exposure to the emerging metaverse of connected online worlds.
Gamification Of EdTech – Stirring Imaginations
Most of our experiences today are gamified. From shopping to eating to working out, we’re earning gold stars, points, badges, rewards and posting to leaderboards. Isn’t half the fun of Wordle bragging about scores? The gamification of educational technology (EdTech) is a significant addition to the narrative around remote learning. Gamification complements traditional techniques and is a proven tool to enhance student motivation and learning outcomes, even during pandemic times, as noted by Frontiers in Psychology. Institutions, teachers and curriculum coordinators must fire up kids’ imaginations and stoke their natural curiosity—touching their hearts as well as their minds. Virtual learning can involve game-like simulated environments that bring adaptive learning opportunities—enabled by instant feedback—to both educators and students.
It opens up entirely new ways of teaching beyond the physical classroom, such as taking students on engaging storyline journeys throughout an entire immersive virtual world. Students can learn the skills they need to acquire and also how to apply those skills to real-world challenges, which hooks them more deeply and leads to a better understanding on a conceptual level.
Defying Gravity Educational opportunities in STEM fields are unequally distributed. Some students benefit from advanced laboratories and enough instructors, time and space for hands-on experience in a wet lab. Yet crucial lab practice is out of reach for many students due to the cost and facilities available, a problem exacerbated by the pandemic. The typical science laboratory environment works with tools such as pencils, stopwatches and pendulums. But through VR-based labs that complement the in-person one, students interact with advanced equipment, learn techniques and perform experiments mimicking the real thing, within the context of a story.
A study in the Journal of Computer Assisted Learning noted that “significant differences were observed favoring the immersive VR group” of university students tasked with solving problems in a physical lab setting, compared to a group studying a conventional text-based manual. Instead of calculating how slowly a box would fall in zero gravity, students see the moon’s gravity in action through immersive simulations. In the 3D environment, they shrink to the molecular level to understand the human heart or explore the biodiversity of an exoplanet.
Moreover, there’s a major benefit for educational institutions as virtual learning enables them to optimize budgets and reduce overall spend. Virtualizing classrooms could allow more effective resource allocation, thereby dramatically reducing overall cost—just as flight simulators can do for pilot training today.
How To Get Started With Gamified Classrooms
Adding gamified virtual content doesn’t require a total curriculum overhaul. Just as educators insert YouTube videos into coursework today, virtual gamified learning can be added in small doses. The key is to identify and virtualize the part of the curriculum that is the most expensive, time-consuming or dangerous to teach, so the simulation provides the most value at reduced cost.
Not all virtual labs are created equal. There are many different quality levels pertaining to gamification, accessibility and virtual technology. Free options are available that can be trialed by individual teachers without involving their IT department until it’s certain the tool is beneficial and appropriate for the specific use case, whether fully remote or as a pre-lab virtual exercise combined with an in-classroom session. Additionally, when looking at potential gamified education options, keep in mind these factors:
- Storytelling. Not all learners are able to engage in detailed abstraction. A realistic story that progresses through a simulation with real-time trial-and-error motivates the player to understand difficult material and can dramatically increase their learning outcomes. What more memorable way to evaluate chemical handling safety protocols than to experience a virtual explosion?
- Integration. Ask whether the VR simulation platform integrates with the learning management system (LMS), such as Blackboard, Canvas, Moodle, Google Classroom, etc. Educators should also seek data insights and reporting to evaluate and adjust the curriculum to student needs.
- Standards. Make sure any potential platform or option meets Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.0-AA compliance to ensure student participation.
- Hardware. Virtual labs are possible without expensive headsets, as lower-immersion activities can launch through existing desktop and laptop screens.
Creating a DIY headset with a smartphone isn’t ideal, as the quality is low and can produce dizziness that limits usage time. If fully immersive headsets are within budget, a dedicated VR library for small groups is a practical setting, as it’s challenging to manage and maintain multiple headsets while providing individual guidance. This will change as companies (Apple, HTC, Meta, etc.) invest heavily to improve comfort and lower price points.
By understanding these factors, gamified VR-based learning can help support student engagement, conceptual understanding and resource availability. This change represents a shift toward more democracy within education that should be championed. It’s not too soon to think about how science education can transcend the current closed systems of virtual labs and move into the growing connected online worlds called the metaverse. Forbes Technology Council is an invitation-only community for world-class CIOs, CTOs and technology executives. Do I qualify?
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