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The Flipside of Reality

When it comes to new technology, virtual reality is one area that is demonstrating great potential as an educational tool.

With virtual reality platforms and 360-degree video continuing to evolve, students can be immersed in other countries and planets from their own classroom—or they can create their own worlds.

A group of WSD STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, and Math) program students recently had a chance to workshop with the Oculus Rift VR platform.

"There's a lot of buzz about virtual reality right now, it's another great learning technology tool," said STEAM Support Teacher Jon Paintin. "In this instance, students can actually create instead of just consuming technology."

Students used the platform with Flipside, a program produced by Winnipeg studio Campfire Union.

"Flipside is a way for people to create animated content using virtual reality as the medium," said Lesley Klassen, Campfire Union co-founder and CEO.

For the workshop, students storyboarded their own talk show before implementing their ideas in virtual reality. Students used the interviews to reflect on what they have learned as being part of the STEAM program.

"One of the foundations of STEAM is having students reflect on their learning at the end of each day," Mr. Paintin said.

"Today students are getting an orientation on how to use this technology and see what it's all about, then they'll be practising their skits and finally recording. In post-production we can edit and put in sound effects or anything else they need to polish it up."

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In the VR environment, students became animated cartoon characters and were able to construct virtual sets and furniture for their talk shows.

Mr. Klassen said it was his first time workshopping Flipside with younger students.

"Virtual reality mimics reality. So just like when you go to an elementary school, where the tables and chairs are smaller, we have to design our app for people of different sizes and heights. It's really interesting to see the students getting in there and exploring everything from a smaller perspective," he said.

That being said, today's tech-savvy students have the benefit of being more adaptable to VR technology than their adult counterparts.

"There are some students here who completely understand it without me saying anything, which is incredible," Mr. Klassen said.

Lord Nelson student J.C. Tauli said it was his first time trying VR technology.

"I've always wanted to try virtual reality…I'm really excited," he said. "I think as the technology progresses, my Dad always tells me this, it will get cheaper as well."

J.C. said that VR technology offers many potential benefits.

"Say a student has a disease and they're in the hospital. Now you have a whole new world of teaching…they could just put on a VR headset and learn from a distance. Their lives will become easier, so they can learn while they recover from their illnesses."

That virtual mobility has many exciting possibilities, offering the opportunity to take students to destinations all over the Earth.

"It can also be used as a virtual field trip," Mr. Paintin said. "If students want to go to different parts of the world, they can just put on their VR headset. Google already has expeditions and lesson plans were students can learn about different parts of the world."

Works of speculative fiction, such as Ready Player One, have envisioned a world where students attend a virtual school, rather than physically attending a real life location. But J.C. feels that students should not miss out on face-to-face interaction with real people.

"Talking online is different than talking to people face-to-face. People act differently. It's really important, as human beings, to talk face-to-face."


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