Virtual Reality Education Pathfinder (VREP) is an educational initiative and partnership between government, education and industry creating an ever-growing consortium of schools and businesses committed to bringing a new kind of learning and teaching to schools across the country.
VREP works by capturing student interest through the use of Virtual Reality and 3D. Students within the program are offered high school and/or college credit for their work and gain valuable 21st Century skills such as study, computer, and technical reading skills as well as the ability to research, communicate, problem solve, work in teams, collaborate, manage their time and access resources to accomplish important goals and objectives.
VREP is self-directed, giving students the freedom to decide what areas are of interest to them and what technologies to use. Working with peers within their own school and across the VREP consortia, students complete projects, research and design their own virtual programs and create 2D and 3D imaging that is then transferred into stereoscopic displays to create immersive virtual environments. Students and other viewers can then interact with the virtual environments, providing learning opportunities that engage today’s learners.
Students in VREP are charged with creating virtual reality and 3D models, simulations and projects which serve several purposes around accelerating student learning:
- Projects demonstrate their understanding of key, high-level national and state educational standards and expectations.
- Projects are connected to curriculum areas and grade level expectations providing the opportunity for other students to understand key concepts and ideas through the use of VR and 3D. (e.g. A high school student may construct a 3D model of the solar system that allows an elementary teacher to show her/his students the rotation of the earth and how the positioning of the sun and moon creates day and night and the phases of the moon. The elementary students can then interact with this environment to position themselves in different places to better understand why the moon looks as it does and why it can be daytime in Asia and nighttime in North America.)
- VREP projects are connected to national and state standards and available via a secure on-line library (think of combination of amazon.com and Netflix.com) to all VREP schools and students, thus rapidly expanding the availability of high quality VR and 3D applications for schools and children.
- The program is demanding and students are expected to be able to provide presentations and clearly articulate what they have learned on short notice. Students must show a willingness and desire to be independent learners and be willing yo work in an environment where self-discipline and maturity are expected.
Impressive results are emanating from the initial set of pilot schools – formerly disengaged or minimally engaged students reengage and improve their GPA, take increasingly difficult courses and begin to see themselves as learners and capable students. At-risk, special education, high and low achieving students have all benefited from participation in VREP.
VREP is more about transforming learning and teaching than it is about technology. VR and 3D are simply vehicles for changing the traditional teacher-student relationships. VREP has no defined curriculum and requires no “lesson plans” from a teacher. Rather than trying to anticipate what students might need and building a structured plan for getting from A to B, VREP puts the learner out front. The idea is simple: Build a VR application that is educationally relevant and that demonstrates your learning. It is the teacher’s job to coach, support, facilitate, question and challenge VREP students. Teachers spend their time applying their content expertise, asking probing questions, and working side-by-side with students as they work through problems and questions that have real meaning to them. In short, VREP teachers and schools create the conditions for students to engage and be successful and then make sure that the traditional system with all its constraints stays out of the student’s way!
Currently, seven schools served by Green Hills AEA are involved in VREP. Six of these schools became involved by attending a VREP Institute this past summer at Red Oak High School where students learned how to use hardware and software for 3D modeling. Those students then took what they learned back to their schools and are now teaching other students. Green Hills AEA is looking forward to hosting another institute in the summer of 2012 and to holding a mid-year showcase where each of the seven schools can show what their students have learned.