Northern State University Uses Virtual Reality to Prepare Education Students for the Classroom

Northern State University in Aberdeen, South Dakota is using virtual reality to help new teachers learn how to manage a classroom of students!

While the education students are not in a VR headset themselves, they interact with students in a custom social VR platform. The avatars in the virtual classroom are students, with real people behind the avatars, giving education students a chance to practice their skills in a low-risk environment before entering a real-life classroom.

Dr. Anna Schwan shows how the virtual classroom training works

Kelli Volk of KELO TV reports:

A virtual reality tool is helping education students prepare to teach in the classroom.

Northern State University senior Sarah Schafer begins student teaching this fall.

Before she enters the classroom she’s getting an idea of what it’s like to interact with students thanks to a Mursion virtual reality simulation program.

“It’s basically real people behind avatars and my teacher candidates are able to join the classroom as the teacher and they’re able to engage with the avatars,” NSU assistant professor of education Anna Schwan said.

“It was nerve-racking, but that’s exactly what it’s going to be in the classroom, so it was really good to just jump right in and just dive into it with the students,” NSU student Sarah Schafer said.

NSU assistant professor of education Anna Schwan says the simulations are customizable.

“For example, for classroom management, I can choose classrooms that have students who have been identified with having behavior issues or I can even set the behavior to a different level,” Schwan said.

Schwan says it’s safe practice for teaching candidates before they encounter a real classroom.

“I can say all the things and I can tell them this might happen, but when you’re dealing with human beings you can’t prepare for everything, so this helps them practice it a little bit without having the constraints of a full classroom where somebody needs you right now and this is happening and you’re trying to figure everything out,” Schwan said.

“It’s like a stepping stone between what you learn in a textbook and what goes on in the classroom,” Schafer said.

You can also watch a second video about the program here.

An October 2020 news article from Northern State University about the project says:

The Mursion Virtual Reality Simulation offers an innovative approach for teacher candidates to acquire and practice new skills, said NSU Assistant Professor of Education Dr. Anna Schwan. Schwan brought the technology to Northern after trying it out at a conference in Maryland.

“As a former secondary classroom teacher, I would have given anything to be able to practice before I stepped into the classroom,” Schwan explained. “I knew right then that I had to do whatever I could to offer this simulation technology to our students at Northern State University. We are the teaching university in the area; it’s only right that we give our students everything we can think of to help them be successful as teachers.”

To help implement the technology, Schwan wrote and received the NSU Extended Realities Grant. Now, teacher candidates in her Classroom Management Course are trying out the Mursion Virtual Reality Simulation, which allows them to enter a world where students are virtual (avatars) but the teaching is real. They can practice privately or in group settings, teaching avatars ranging from elementary through high school age. 

The software used is called Mursion. Here’s a one-minute promtional video of how it works in an education setting:

In addition to teacher training, Mursion also offers solutions in workplace learning (diversity training, customer service, sales, etc.), healthcare training, and other areas.

FundamentalVR’s Fundamental Surgery: A Brief Introduction to a Multimodal Virtual Reality Platform for Training Surgeons

Fundamental Surgery is a VR platform by a company called FundamentalVR, consisting of several components, and a sterling example of social VR used for a serious, practical purpose: the training of surgeons. The training program has been accredited by the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons (AAOS) and the Royal College of Surgeons England.

Here’s a one-minute video overview of all five components of Fundamental Surgery:

The components are:

  • HapticVR: deep simulation and procedural surgical rehearsal with kinesthetic haptic feedback (you can see a bit of this in the first video up top);
  • @HomeVR: procedural walkthrough, anatomy and environment familiarization and testing, using a standalone VR headset;
  • Teaching Space: a social VR-based virtual training space (see image below);
  • Data Insights: a central data dashboard to track progress; and
  • MultiuserVR: a collaborative/social VR platform for surgical training (see video below).

This is an animated GIF demonstrating the Teaching Space, complete with a shared whiteboard:

VRScout reported on Fundamental Surgery last September:

Teaching Space [is] an unlimited multi-user virtual classroom designed to help medical schools around the world who’ve been impacted by the pandemic; a virtual space where they’re able to get that crucial hands-on training while working other students in a collaborative virtual environment.

COVID-19 has presented big challenges in the medical field when it comes to surgical training. In many cases, it has completely disrupted traditional training programs, which have always relied on actual face-to-face classroom environments. Zoom and Skype conferencing do provide alternative learning environments, but they’re limited. 2D platforms can’t fully replace the teaching and learning opportunities offered by in-class training.

This new VR learning space provides a safe environment for instructors to meet with trainees, no matter where they are located.

The virtual classroom environment includes a virtual whiteboard that instructors can use to present additional notes as they discuss procedures with their class. From there you can hop on over to Fundamental Surgery’s virtual operating room where you can run demos of surgeries and get even more hands-on experience. 

Here’s a short video showing you what the MultiuserVR surgical experience looks like:

In addition, surgeons in training can take their lessons home with the @HomeVR program:

@HomeVR expands the Fundamental Surgery platform, offering an easy route for residency programs to integrate the latest educational technologies into their curriculums. It supports consistency in training delivery and assessment across a cohort, and can be used to enhance the effectiveness of an institution’s curriculum…

The @HomeVR product is used on standalone headsets and can be taken home to use whenever and wherever the user would like, providing flexibility of learning. The @HomeVR product serves as a great introduction to the HapticVR product, which supports full skills development.

As the VRScout article states,

Think of FundamentalVR’s medical training system as a ‘flight simulator’ for both medical students and their instructors. If you’re going to make a mistake, this is the environment to do it. Because the experience is fully immersive—using realistic audio, video, and haptic feedback—the emotions that you experience are real.

Who knows? The next time (God forbid!) you go under the surgeon’s knife, she might have had part of her training in virtual reality!

Photo by National Cancer Institute on Unsplash

For more information about FundamentalVR’s Fundamental Surgery product, visit their website, or follow them on social media: Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, or check out their videos on YouTube (there’s also a ton of videos here on the Fundamental Surgery website). And I will be adding Fundamental Surgery to my ever-growing comprehensive list of social VR and virtual worlds.

UPDATED! Wonda VR: A Brief Introduction

Shades of Indiana Jones…

Wonda VR is an educational social VR platform that seems to be targeting the corporate and higher education markets. Here’s an example used by NYU social work students:

It would appear that most, if not all, of the use cases listed on their page of higher education examples involve 360-degree video.

An interesting use case on their enterprise page uses the platform to help train police officers on how to interact with autistic people:

While Wonda VR does offer a free, limited option, it would appear that they are steering customers toward their US$350-a-month option for up to 50 users, billed annually:

You have to submit your email, name, position and insitutional affiliation to the company to get an invitation to experience the Free level, so I sent everything off, crossed my fingers, and I’ll let you know when I do hear back. I expect a strong-armed sales pitch will be coming my way, but if Wonda VR thinks they can shake US$4,200 from my lint-filled pockets, they’ve got another think coming.

In fact, just this past Thursday, Wonda VR offered a free webinar to learn more about using XR platforms to boost collaboration and creativity, name-dropping a mix of platforms that I had already covered on this blog, and a few that I had never heard of before (time to put on my pith helmet and go exploring in the jungle again!):

I’m actually kind of sorry that I had to miss this (but last Thursday was just a crazy day for me, working for my university library system from self-isolation at home, with lots of online Zoom and Webex meetings).

If you would like to learn more about Wonda VR, you can visit their website, or follow them on social media: Twitter and LindedIn.

UPDATE April 6th, 2020: Well, today I got an email with a sign-in link (and thankfully, no sales pressure, just an invitation to contact the company if I were interested in taking it further).

I wanted to share a 3-minute getting started video they shared with me, which I think gives you a bit of the flavour of what Wonda VR can offer:

If you’re interested and you want to learn more, check out the videos on their YouTube page.