EL Major Award 2020/21 - Bishops Hatfield Girls School

We are very pleased to award Bishops Hatfield Girls School our 2020/21 Effective Learning Award to purchase a class set of Virtual Reality headsets, supporting equipment and digital content. 

Even such an innovative and exciting sounding project still needed to prove its academic worth and hit our Assessment Criteria hard.  This can be a particular challenge in the Effective Learning category because applicants have to really focus on why/how their project will enhance learning and motivation compared to their existing methods and facilities.  Isabelle Fautrero-Sayer (School Development Officer) did just that with a very comprehensive and well researched application.

Isabelle detailed many uses of the VR equipment and was careful to explain the learning benefits and give examples.  Here are a just a few of her examples:

“We believe that, by immersing our students in a virtual world, we will:
- Offer experiences that can inspire and motivate students by transporting them to impossible worlds, for example, they could experience life in the trenches or take a tour of the solar system;
- make the abstract tangible, enabling students of all abilities to access and model abstract concepts that would otherwise be difficult to visualise;”

“Interacting with a virtual world is also shown to create an emotional engagement in the subject matter which not only motivates the student but also enhances their knowledge retention.[1] The interactivity also encourages independence, allowing students to take the lead in their learning and enabling them to access content at their own pace. For example, year 12 geography students could visit and compare landforms around the world identifying key geographical features as part of their Coastal system and landscapes topic as opposed to memorising lists from a text.”

“Communication skills are not explicitly taught in most lessons but rather through opportunities to present to the class or through class discussion. This year, opportunities to develop these skills have been limited owing to the pandemic. It has been apparent that the limited social interaction has led to a lack of confidence with many of our students. There are many communication and team building applications that can be utilised to encourage these sorts of skills in a stress free environment. For example ‘Keep talking and nobody explodes’, a bomb diffusing exercise where one team member is immersed and needs to communicate with the team what is in front of them in order for them to work together to complete their task. Which offers an informal way to encourage teamwork and communication.”

“As VR in education becomes more mainstream, there will be opportunities to set up virtual classrooms with other schools in applications like Engage where pupils could practice their language skills directly with foreign pupils or meet their partner in advance of an international exchange.”

“Students will be able to experience the impossible by circumnavigating the Earth in a lesson or travelling back in time. This is more than novelty as it can impart context to a subject - allow students to experience events sequentially or allow comparisons of geographical features in-situ.”

“4.1.3 Alternative learning style
For those pupils with Special Educational Needs, a more visual and interactive approach to subjects will make these much more accessible to them. It is our intention to use VR to support booster groups at KS3. These learners need alternative ways of learning having fallen behind through inabilities to access mainstream lessons in traditional ways.”

“4.3.1. Cause and effect
VR will enable us to compare changes over time within the course of a lesson. Students could be immersed in a succession of 360 historical re-enactments to create a chronological narrative of events leading to critical moments in history, such as events leading to the gunpowder plot or WWII.”

“4.4.2. Allow girls to experience content development
The Curiious creator software will allow students to develop their own 360 content with other ‘free apps’ enabling coding for VR. This is particularly important for a girls’ school given the current gender bias in software development, where according to a global software developer survey in 2020, female developers account for only eight percent of respondents.[7]”

In addition to these and many others, Isabelle also liaised with subject specialists to create a table of specific uses, links and target groups for the equipment and software for various subjects, skills and clubs.

We are always impressed when the efficacy of a project has been well researched.  As well as many links to educational research, the school also undertook a trial of the equipment to assess it first hand…

“An initial expression of interest survey conducted at BHGS suggests the headsets would be in high demand and we have founded a working group which will continue to explore the potential for VR within their respective subjects and share best practice.”

“Two weeks commencing 7th June 2021, we will be trialling a VR headset for further investigation of the potential uses and subject specific applications. The selected Pico headsets are not restricted to content from a single developer allowing flexibility in selecting and uploading applications. This also provides insurance against obsolescence should an application be discontinued and ensures that all subjects can benefit from their introduction.”

Isabelle also explained the very wide range of students who would benefit from the equipment, not just in lessons but also in clubs, across enrichment groups and for outside groups such as primary and consortium schools.  She took the time to give examples of how these pupils would benefit eg:

”VR could also be used to inspire and excite pupils within the subject-specific taster visits. The pupils could be taken to far away places such as walking on the moon to observe the shadows on the Earth and how day and night works or practice mathematical problems by solving puzzles to escape a room. The pupils could also experience content produced by our current pupils showing places they might visit at secondary school or the work that they produce. ”

Finally, we were impressed that 22 teachers were to be specifically trained in the use of VR and then this training extended to all staff as VR use increases.  These trained teachers will continue to enhance learning through VR use and pass on their skills for the rest of their careers.

A great Effective Learning project “sold” by a well-organised and informative application.  We look forward to perhaps sampling the technology first-hand once it is up and running and pandemic restrictions allow.