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  • Bryne Stothard

Q&A with FIS World Magazine

> Who and or what inspired the project to come to FIS?

I discovered the idea through my love of video games and podcasts. One evening I was listening to a podcast called ‘Final Games’ which is a ‘Desert Island Discs’ type show where people from the gaming industry choose their 4 favorite games of all time. Games programmer Jake Kazdal (who spent his early career at the iconic games company SEGA) selected Google Earth VR as one of his games (intriguing to me both as a keen gamer and Geography teacher) and his description of the experience was so vivid that I decided I had to try it out myself. I booked a trial at Conrad in Frankfurt to experience VR myself and then immediately emailed Dr. Fochtman for an appointment to discuss FIS purchasing the kit for our Geography department. Thankfully we have a culture at the school where innovation is valued, encouraged and nurtured. I have worked at schools that would have dearly wanted to fund this type of project, but couldn’t and others that could but wouldn’t – Thankfully FIS allows us teachers to be at the cutting edge of what we do. Without that philosophy towards education, our students wouldn’t get the world class education we promise them.

I began doing more research into VR in education and realized that there aren’t many schools in the world that are using VR. There are a few that are using Google Cardboard (which is excellent and inexpensive) and a very, very small handful that are using full, room-scale VR – but there simply isn’t a school I have heard of that has discovered as broad or as deep an understanding of VR in the classroom as we have at FIS.

> What is your personal involvement in the Project?

The first VR event we held was a demonstration for parents at WorldFest. Since then I have used VR extensively during my Geography & TOK classes, helped my Geography colleague Sue Corlett to integrate it into her classes and facilitated week long events for the Upper School Art and Drama departments. Our Science Department will host the VR equipment for their unit on Physiology later this month and I have also done short collaboration events with Grade 2 in our Elementary School. I am scheduled to run a workshop at the Association of German International Schools event in Hannover at the end of January to help other schools integrate VR and further VR workshops are planned for later in the year.

The most wonderful thing is collaborating with my fellow FIS teachers to discover how VR can benefit the students in their subject. The enthusiasm and the flood of ideas that pour out of teachers when I show them what the system can do, makes leading the VR project a real privilege. It truly opens up new worlds and our students are set to benefit from this greatly, both in the near future and even more so as they enter University and beyond.

> How do you see the project affecting FIS students?

There are four main pedagogical impacts that come with the use of VR. The first is the new opportunities it offers up to our students to explore our curriculum. IB Geographers can ‘visit’ a city (e.g. New York) and at street level (using the street view feature on Google Earth VR), witness inequality within districts of a city. They then compare this with the urban models they have studied, giving them a much deeper understanding of the conceptual models within Urban Geography. In our IB unit ‘Hazards and Disasters’ students can visit the places prone to these disasters and analyse the planning, prediction and response people have made in the area. With specific case studies like Monteserrat (Volcano) the students can fly to points of the island they have studied and see with their own eyes the after effects of the volcanic eruption. The system also opens up opportunities within almost every academic discipline. For example in the Arts and Science, VR allows students to experience the impossible – drawing with light in a 3-D space or pulling apart and studying every single piece of the human anatomy.

The second major benefit of the system is that our students are becoming early adopters of a technology which is quickly changing how their University experience and future work will be conducted. Many universities are now investing heavily in VR to replace existing Science Laboratories and as we have seen through our own alumni visit earlier in the year, Volkswagen are investing in using VR as a cost-effective alternative to vehicle showrooms.

The third benefit is the opportunity that VR offers for collaboration between students in the classroom and also teachers to draw links between areas of our curriculum. It offers up alternative ways for students to approach a topic and often blurs the lines between academic disciplines. VR works best in schools when students are working in small groups and to an extent the idea that they should take care of one another whilst they are using the room scale VR builds trust and collegiality between students.

The fourth benefit is that VR can very accurately and effectively build empathy within it’s users. Our IB Geographers have stood in the shoes of a teenage Syrian migrant moving on foot through Eastern Europe, they have experienced drought and famine in Somalia and have been inspired by the people they met in the Favelas of Sao Paolo.

> Do you have any predictions for VR at FIS and in education at large?

Many students will be using this routinely at university and in their professional lives. It would make sense for us all to embrace this sooner rather than later. In a broader educational sense, If we do this and do it well, we have the potential to not only create a more empathetic world for the wealthiest of school institutions, but for the increasing number of students globally who have access to technology. In doing so we and VR can change the world.

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