Teacher Candidates Explore Immersive Learning Strategies

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Teacher candidates in Dominican University of California’s Department of Education are learning now to integrate “immersive learning” into K-12 classrooms.

Dr. Rebecca (Becky) Birch, assistant professor and director of the single subject credential program, began working with Marin-based XRMarin in 2023 to engage teaching credential candidates in both augmented reality and virtual reality. Birch teaches two educational technology courses - one at the beginning of the credential program and one in the credential candidates’ last semester.

Last October, Dane Lancaster, XRMarin’s Director led a demonstration for Birch’s first semester Using Technology in the Classroom course. Lancaster, the former chief technology officer for the Marin County Office of Education (MCOE) and current advisor for the CSU ALIS-XR project, formed XRMarin to support the design, implementation, and evaluation of immersive learning strategies with the goal of narrowing achievement gaps in education.
Lancaster, who had worked in his role at MCOE for more than 20 years, immediately realized the benefits of immersive learning as a teaching tool after attending a virtual reality demonstration.

“The experience just blew my mind,” he recalls. “I thought that this could be one heck of a teaching tool if deployed correctly.”

With augmented reality, students use a phone or iPad with a book to allow readers to access additional information, animations, or interactive elements in real time. With virtual reality, students use a head-mounted display to interact with a computer-generated virtual element.  

During the virtual reality workshop in October, the teacher candidates were able to virtually participate in unique educational experiences, including diving 200 feet into the Cordell Bank Marin Sanctuary with a 360-degree view of the ocean life around them.

“Our students were able to see everything the scientists were seeing,” Birch says. “The narrator was telling the students information about everything they were seeing. This is an opportunity that could only occur with virtual reality.”

The teacher candidates not only found the technology engaging, but also remarked how it could improve communication between student and pupil by providing opportunities for teachers to check for understanding and make daily contact to gauge individual student participation in teamwork activities.

The second Dominican workshop, which is being held March 22, will focus on augmented reality. Students will learn how augmented reality can enhance learning outcomes. Dominican students will use headsets, iPads and iPhones to interact with oceanic animals in a coral reef, explore the solar system, and learn to play the piano.

immersive learning, Birch says, could enhance student’s learning in many subjects, including foreign languages, mathematics, chemistry, art, and history. For example, in a foreign language course students could travel to another country and communicate with residents in the local language. Students studying science could study molecular structures in 3-D.

Several of the Dominican students have started to develop plans to use both augmented reality and virtual reality in the classroom. 

“It is important to expose teachers in training to these kinds of experiences because I feel that within 3-5 years immersive learning will be an important tool in education,” Lancaster says. “We are giving teachers a head start here at DU to explore using these tools in their own classrooms.”

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