Who needs to go for the virtual simulations and immersive learning?
Nowadays, pilots learn to fly an aircraft sitting in a simulation lab and devoting more than 200 hours of practicing in a virtual world before entering a cabin. The importance of flight simulations and skill development is crucial in this particular field. Yet does the validity of the answer remain the same for all fields? Let’s consider K-12 education in more detail.
A century ago no one was using high tech to teach students science. All that was required were a black board, a piece of churk, a book and a notebook. That is, teachers handled these tools so professionally, that they brought to the world an army of great minds who made an industrial revolution in the 20th century. So why are we talking about using 3D models (https://sketchfab.com/), interactive technologies, VR headsets and immersive content (https://roqed.com/) in schools?
The situation changed drastically in the economically developed countries. More schools are switching to digital space and bringing high tech to their students (online teaching tools, interactive technologies, even a “paper” submission is now digital).
To see these changes from different views, let’s take a look at the table below. There are randomly chosen topics from a school program that were taught a century ago vs today. The depth and details changed much about these topics, however there are more important changes happened with time related to the way of how these knowledge can be delivered to students or how students can reach it:
|Sample school topics||20th century||2021|
|Newton’s laws||Teacher, book||Internet (webpages, videos, services)|
|Human digestive system||Teacher, book||Internet (webpages, videos, services)|
|Organic compounds||Teacher, book||Internet (webpages, videos, services)|
|Natural uranium half-life||Teacher, book||Internet (webpages, videos, services)|
|Metals and non metals||Teacher, book||Internet (webpages, videos, services)|
|Cell structure||Teacher, book||Internet (webpages, videos, services)|
We clearly see that even a half century ago, students had to physically interact with another physical body (instructor, teacher, book, notes etc.) to learn about a desired topic. In 2021, there is no need for an actual physical object or interaction between students and a source of information. Most of us probably had already taken online classes and gained some skills and knowledge from instructors without ever meeting them. Unbelievable, but today we can figure out everything about ideal gas laws never going to a library or school or interacting with a teacher.
Accessibility of information makes it go down in value. Since teachers and instructors are no longer the primary source of information as it was a couple of decades ago, they have to “compete” with the web: with its useful and harmful sides for their students’ attention in class. The role of a modern teacher seems not to give the knowledge to their students, but rather teach them how to apply studied materials and topics in everyday problem solving routine. For this reason, educators from all over the world are trying to find ways to keep their students focused in class instead of being distracted or bored.
Now let’s consider couple of trivial instruments used in most of the classes:
- Board, slides and pictures. This was a very powerful way of delivering the information to the class. Keeping students’ attention on the projector screen and providing them with essential information has indeed worked for dozens of years.
- Video presentations and animations. Usually, not the best way of teaching. Because whenever teachers launch a video or animation, they automatically are lost from students’ horizons. Information presented in the video cannot be optimized for the proper delivery levels.
- Hands-on models and experiments. The best way of teaching of course. However, in a real world, most of the students end classes by watching how someone else is performing the lab experiments.
- Classroom assessments. Students have to try and practice their knowledge, so teachers devote some time for problem solving and example discussions. Useful technique, yet what to do if some students lag behind?
As these questions arise, there are still difficulties in details when teaching different topics and subjects. Let’s take a look at the issues that teachers face while explaining certain topics:
Inhalation and Exhalation Mechanism
|Many students find it difficult to understand the interaction between rib, diaphragm, and lung movement. |
The Donders model does not fully show this system, and it also has to be done again every year, since they tend to wear out over several lessons and do not show effectively the modeling of the respiratory system. It also takes time to make them.
|Urinary system. Structure of the kidney and nephron||A complex topic with a lot of details. Following the spiral education system, the topic is repeated with increasing complexity, there is a need to repeat and complicate information as the class grows.|
It is not so easy to imagine the movement of blood and its stages of filtration, the process of urine formation. Difficulty in order to see the big picture and understand the meaning of each stage in the formation of urine.
|s, p, d orbitals||s, p, d orbitals are difficult to represent in space. The teacher for modeling may need balloons to explain the topic, which is not always possible.|
The books are depicted in 2D planes.
|Sizes of particles of matter||It is necessary to depict a comparison of such particles as a nucleus, an atom, a crystal lattice, a microscopic object and a macroscopic object.|
|Lithosphere and movement of lithospheric plates||Difficulties in describing and comparing terms such as spreading, subduction, rifting, shear. Students can get confused.|
The structure of the atmosphere.
|Difficulties occur when rendering 2D pictures. It is difficult to explain the changes in the weather to make it clear and interesting.|
|“Comparison of molar heat capacities of metals”||Instruments necessary for laboratory work: a set of calorimetric bodies, calorimeter, thermometer, vessels with cold and hot water, balance. |
It is very difficult to make sure that the students have water at the same temperature, the calorimeter does not always come across a sealed one that can actually be thermally insulated.
The time to prepare this experiment is longer than what is allocated for this lab. Accordingly, you have to speed up each process, without clarification and discussion of topics.
|“Determination of the efficiency of an inclined plane”||It is almost impossible for a student to do this experiment due to insufficient equipment. Also, the equipment loses its primary qualities (elasticity, rigidity, etc.), and therefore, the data obtained during the experiment are obtained inaccurate. |
Students’ results differ greatly due to the fact that all measurements are taken by hand. Accordingly, finding the absolute error is a problematic exercise in this experiment.
The list just goes on. For sure, these problems might not be present at all schools, some of them have a very good technical base and have a budget to maintain the quality of instruments and models. Yet we must note the fact that according to the Policy Information Report – “Computers and Classrooms The Status of Technology in U.S. Schools”, the current student-to-computer ratio of 10 to 1 represents an all-time low ratio. After highlighting the problems, now we can discuss several solutions and how exactly they can help educators to deal with these issues.
Some interactive 3D technologies such as Roqed Science (https://roqed.com/), Labster (https://www.labster.com/) provide the ability to simulate and conduct educational demonstrations for middle and high school students. Usually they contain models and animations that include a functionality for creating compliance assignments, assembling and dissecting models, visually peasant animations and deeper visualization of topics. Virtual 3D simulators of laboratory and practical classes in Physics, allow students in a fun interactive mode, independently or under the supervision of a teacher, to systematically study and model various physical experiments, analyze the result and, based on this, give an answer to the task.
Use of virtual laboratories will make it possible to visually and virtually demonstrate various physical experiments, to understand the essence of the operation of various devices, mechanisms and equipment.
There are undoubtedly several advantages of using virtual labs:
1. Individual pace of learning for each student.
2. Equipment shortage is compensated.
3. Easy time management and equipment setting time in class.
4. Safety measures are much higher than under normal conditions.
5. There is no need to re-assemble the installation before each lesson, spend time inspecting the devices, putting them in proper places.
6. It is possible to carry out several experiments in a short time under different initial conditions, and then generalize the results and draw a conclusion.
7. You can carry out an experiment that is impossible under normal conditions (for example, if the process is long-term or requiring special settings).
In addition, virtual laboratories allow students who have missed some topics to fill in the gaps, regardless of the presence of the teacher at the workplace, to complete it at the same time when they pass it in an educational institution, but at the same time being homeschooled. This type of laboratory works allows students to independently consider those physical laws, phenomena and objects that are classified as “for independent study”.
In laboratory work in physics, the skills of conducting experiments, understanding devices are acquired. There is an opportunity to learn how to independently draw conclusions from the experimental data obtained and thereby more deeply and fully assimilate theoretical material. One of the goals of creating virtual laboratories is to strive for a comprehensive visualization of the studied processes, and one of the main tasks is to ensure the possibility of preparing the student for the most complete perception and understanding of the physical essence. Virtual laboratories contribute to increasing visibility, interactivity, as well as the formation of cognitive and creative activity of students. They allow students and teachers to simulate objects and processes of the surrounding world, organize access to real laboratory equipment.
In general, interactive softwares can be used to assess students both before and after an explanation. A differentiated approach to the assessment and delivery of educational material increases student engagement in the study of the subject, which in turn contributes to an improved perception of the educational material.
- This function motivates the student to watch the animation several times, to learn the mechanism of an action or process from the inside, or to observe a specific detail.
- Students can independently move on to a deeper study of the educational material. Complication of educational material on topics helps the teacher to differentiate ahead of time and complication during the lesson.
- For less academically successful students, there is always a room for different approaches in explanation and delivery.
- Developing Interest in the Subject
- Visual aesthetics and the ability to interact with models and animations increase the interest of the young technologically advanced generation in learning the subject.
- Improving the quality of knowledge
- The availability of material with the ability to move to complication and detailed study contributes to an increase in the quality of students’ knowledge.
The use of virtual laboratories will make it possible to visually and virtually demonstrate various physical experiments, to understand the essence of the operation of various devices, mechanisms and equipment. In addition, virtual laboratory work allows students who have missed some topics to fill in the gaps, regardless of the presence of the teacher at the workplace, to complete it at the same time when they pass it in an educational institution, but at the same time being homeschooled. This type of laboratory work allows the student to independently consider those physical laws, phenomena and objects that are classified as “for independent study”.