UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Penn State World Campus is using 360-degree videos and virtual reality for the first time with the goal of improving the educational experience for online learners.
The technology has been implemented in the curriculum of a graduate-level special education course in Penn State’s summer semester. Students can use a VR headset to watch 360-degree videos on a device such as a smartphone.
The course, Special Education 801, focuses on how teachers can respond to challenging behaviors, and the 360-degree videos place students in a classroom where they see an instructor explaining strategies for arranging the classroom in ways best-suited for the learning activity. The videos were produced using a 360-degree video camera and uploaded into the course in just a few a days.
“There’s something about putting that headset on and immersing yourself in your learning environment that allows you to make a deeper connection with what you’re learning,” said Chris Millet, director of Penn State World Campus learning design operations. “We’ve made a quantum leap in terms of the effectiveness of how these concepts are taught for a small amount of effort and expense.”
The goal is to see if students retained the knowledge better by using the immersive videos compared to a two-dimensional illustration created in PowerPoint, the original method for illustrating this content, which is still available. The students also can watch 360-degree video on YouTube without a VR headset.
Millet said the research his team has done showed that concepts that have a spatial component that students can explore are the best applications for this technology.
The videos give students the opportunity to better understand the content and skills they are learning, said associate professor Katie Hoffman, who appears in the videos.
“The idea is for teachers to think about their goals of a lesson or activity and how they physically arrange their rooms,” said Hoffman, who is also the coordinator of online special education programs for the Penn State College of Education. “The 360-degree videos allow them to see it from the teacher perspective and a student perspective.”
The idea to use VR technology started with a group of World Campus learning designers. Designer Linas Mockus immediately thought of using it in the special education course.
“What’s better than actually going into a classroom and capturing the environment?” he said. “The idea is that while you’re immersed in this VR environment, you can control what you see and what you look at.”
Millet is optimistic that 360-degree videos can be implemented in many courses offered online through Penn State World Campus. The same group of World Campus learning designers is working on using the technology for a lesson in a graduate-level nursing course to help students identify potentially unsafe living spaces for elderly people.
“We always think about the pedagogical reasons why we are doing this, not just using technology to use it,” Mockus said. “360-video lets students experience the virtual environment and understand concepts better. That’s why we think it shows a lot of promise in online education.”