Postsecondary Learning

How AR and VR Can Make Students Laugh and Cry Out Loud—and Embed Them in Their Learning

By Wendy McMahon     Aug 28, 2018

How AR and VR Can Make Students Laugh and Cry Out Loud—and Embed Them in Their Learning

How do you captivate a classroom full of digital-since-birth students? According to one Tennessee college professor, you do it by creating immersive learning experiences.

In his former role as assistant vice president of academic affairs and English professor at Volunteer State Community College (VSCC), Michael Torrence combined classroom teaching with cutting-edge technologies; he used augmented, virtual and mixed reality to embed students in their learning.

Torrence has been pushing the limits of technology to create captivating multisensory learning experiences for years. At first, he used Minecraft to gamify his lessons and increase student engagement. Eventually, he discovered multimodal learning—which incorporates visual, auditory, kinesthetic and tactile learning styles—helping him bridge the gap between his own classroom and the digitized world in which students live.

At VSCC, Torrence says, students would cry, laugh out loud, even get angry after an immersive lesson in his English class. They also had greater success submitting and completing assignments, paid close attention to lessons and came to class prepared—all of which Torrence attributes to more robust engagement and higher attention levels.

Now president of Tennessee’s Motlow State Community College, Torrence talked with EdSurge about what multimodal learning looks like, why it “meets students where they are,” and how it prepares them for success in the workforce.

EdSurge: How does your multimodal approach benefit students’ learning?

Michael Torrence: It’s about meeting students where they are.

Students are no longer simply digital natives, they’re digitally immersed natives. When you immerse yourself in something, you become an expert in it. Our students are in virtual spaces, augmented reality spaces and ultimately in mixed-reality learning environments. It's important to provide learning in these platforms because that's where our kids are.

But we are still playing catch-up with the ways in which we can leverage these technologies to benefit of our students—to better prepare them to be successful once they move into the workforce. Combining multimodal learning and AR/VR is a step in the right direction. With multimodal learning, education is delivered on various platforms—and you can blend those learning platforms using different approaches.

How exactly did you do that in your English classes?

Students weren’t just in a 2D environment; instead they could actually engage and immerse themselves into the learning environment.

I simply built a space where we used VR/AR as a mechanism throughout the course to promote critical thinking, teach, and facilitate how to argue. The entirety of our course conversations balanced what was happening to our country with what was happening globally. We created a community consciousness that spurred dialogue about ways to positively impact communities.

I bought 40 virtual reality headsets with haptic handsets for them to manipulate in the VR/AR space, and I connected them to content from New York Times VR and WITHIN. The content placed students in settings such as on the ground in a refugee crisis or in the midst of the Millions March in New York City.

What did that look like day to day?

At the beginning of every class, they would go into this virtual space and engage with the content instead of just reading it. They’d respond to me about what it was like to be immersed in the experience.

The content from the WITHIN app provided one of the more visceral experiences for students. There was a U2 video called "Song for Someone" and it included a global village approach to singing the song—with excerpts from singers from across the world and across various musical genres singing along with U2.

Students’ experiences varied from being moved to tears to simply enjoying a multimodal, inclusive and diverse message. They spoke of feeling connected. Saw themselves in others for moments in time. In snippets of messaging. And they felt like the representations that they encountered in VR could have been them too.

Students learned more concretely that they are not alone in the learning space, that they have agency and voice, that conversation and thinking matters. And they learned that the use of VR as a tool for learning works.

What kind of impact does this approach have on student learning?

At the end of the course, for example, students met with a shark tank-type group—investors from the community, business, and industry folks—and pitched them business ideas that would utilize VR to provide a solution to problems that were local, regional, national or even global in scope.

We came up with some pretty interesting topics and I'm happy to say two of them actually became businesses, providing delivery services for corporate and local restaurants. What was special was that both met an existing need.

I believe that the AR/VR provided a way of looking into the world that these students hadn’t considered previously and then when they saw the need, they moved into action to implement their plans.

Were you able to measure this success?

The way that I measured it was completion. How many of my students actually got through my class successfully? It was over 85%. My research from the two classes where I used VR and this approach shows students were engaged, and ultimately more successful in my classes.

Based on my use of VR in an English class, I would posit that students are also less likely to drop out of any class where they are connected to each other and to the content, and feel valued by the professor. VR and other platforms provide students another point of entry into already established content and ideas.

Since students are already participating in this space via VR versions of Minecraft, World of Warcraft, and more recently, Fortnite, they are already there waiting for us to creatively develop content that is rigorous and provides gainful learning experiences that encompass a multimodal approach.

Do you have plans to implement AR/VR for multimodal learning at Motlow State Community College?

Right now we're in the R&D stage. We're looking at health sciences as well as mechatronics, advanced manufacturing, and robotics. Those are spaces where I intend to initially start the utilization of mixed reality not as a toy but as a teaching tool for deeper integrated learning.

I think there's a tremendous opportunity to utilize existing technologies like zSpace, for example, to enhance and strengthen the current curriculum that we already use. Not to replace it, but to allow students to take this content with them, where they can manipulate, view, pull apart, and deepen their learning base. I think immersion is one of the predictors of future success.


Applications Available on zSpace

App Sector Description
zSpace Studio K-12 A rich model exploration and presentation tool that allows students to compare, dissect, analyze, measure, and annotate thousands of 3D models.
Newton’s Park K-12 Allows students to run or create their own experiments to deepen their knowledge of Newtonian Mechanics.
Franklin’s Lab K-12 Guides students through electricity concepts and troubleshooting faulty circuits.
Curie’s Elements K-12 Allows students to explore a periodic table with Bohr and atomic models for each element.
Euclid's Shapes K-12 Offers activities with math manipulatives and provides teachers with a guide to math learning.
Leopoly K-12 Introduces students to the world of 3D creation by helping them create, customize, and prepare digital objects for 3D printing.
Geogebra K-12 Allows students to better engage in math concepts related to three-dimensional topics.
VIVED Science K-12 A comprehensive package of detailed interactive dissection experiences.
zSpace Experiences
K-12 Includes experiential-based simulations of Earth, Life, and Physical Science topics.
Tinkercad K-12 An online 3D design and printing site that will allow you to import models directly to zSpace Studio.
VIVED Chemistry
K-12 Interactive dissection experiences focus on Human Anatomy, Botany, Zoology, Earth Science, Microbiology, and more.
Labster
K-12 Offers true to life Physical Science and Physics lab experiments for high school students.
Human Anatomy Atlas Health Science An award-winning human anatomy general reference.
VIVED Anatomy Health Science A high quality interactive software for learning anatomy in 3D.
VIVED Volume Health Science A tool for viewing and manipulating medical imaging scans (DICOM) on zSpace.
Virtual ECG Health Science Allows students to practice ECG electrode placement.
VR Automotive Mechanic Career & Technical Lets students practice assembly and disassembly within a virtual mechanic shop.
VR Automotive Expert Career & Technical A 3D interactive study guide for automotive training.
WaveNG Career & Technical Provides students with hands-on training in welding gestures, MAG and MMA.

Postsecondary Learning

How AR and VR Can Make Students Laugh and Cry Out Loud—and Embed Them in Their Learning

By Wendy McMahon     Aug 28, 2018

How AR and VR Can Make Students Laugh and Cry Out Loud—and Embed Them in Their Learning

How do you captivate a classroom full of digital-since-birth students? According to one Tennessee college professor, you do it by creating immersive learning experiences.

In his former role as assistant vice president of academic affairs and English professor at Volunteer State Community College (VSCC), Michael Torrence combined classroom teaching with cutting-edge technologies; he used augmented, virtual and mixed reality to embed students in their learning.

Torrence has been pushing the limits of technology to create captivating multisensory learning experiences for years. At first, he used Minecraft to gamify his lessons and increase student engagement. Eventually, he discovered multimodal learning—which incorporates visual, auditory, kinesthetic and tactile learning styles—helping him bridge the gap between his own classroom and the digitized world in which students live.

At VSCC, Torrence says, students would cry, laugh out loud, even get angry after an immersive lesson in his English class. They also had greater success submitting and completing assignments, paid close attention to lessons and came to class prepared—all of which Torrence attributes to more robust engagement and higher attention levels.

Now president of Tennessee’s Motlow State Community College, Torrence talked with EdSurge about what multimodal learning looks like, why it “meets students where they are,” and how it prepares them for success in the workforce.

EdSurge: How does your multimodal approach benefit students’ learning?

Michael Torrence: It’s about meeting students where they are.

Students are no longer simply digital natives, they’re digitally immersed natives. When you immerse yourself in something, you become an expert in it. Our students are in virtual spaces, augmented reality spaces and ultimately in mixed-reality learning environments. It's important to provide learning in these platforms because that's where our kids are.

But we are still playing catch-up with the ways in which we can leverage these technologies to benefit of our students—to better prepare them to be successful once they move into the workforce. Combining multimodal learning and AR/VR is a step in the right direction. With multimodal learning, education is delivered on various platforms—and you can blend those learning platforms using different approaches.

How exactly did you do that in your English classes?

Students weren’t just in a 2D environment; instead they could actually engage and immerse themselves into the learning environment.

I simply built a space where we used VR/AR as a mechanism throughout the course to promote critical thinking, teach, and facilitate how to argue. The entirety of our course conversations balanced what was happening to our country with what was happening globally. We created a community consciousness that spurred dialogue about ways to positively impact communities.

I bought 40 virtual reality headsets with haptic handsets for them to manipulate in the VR/AR space, and I connected them to content from New York Times VR and WITHIN. The content placed students in settings such as on the ground in a refugee crisis or in the midst of the Millions March in New York City.

What did that look like day to day?

At the beginning of every class, they would go into this virtual space and engage with the content instead of just reading it. They’d respond to me about what it was like to be immersed in the experience.

The content from the WITHIN app provided one of the more visceral experiences for students. There was a U2 video called "Song for Someone" and it included a global village approach to singing the song—with excerpts from singers from across the world and across various musical genres singing along with U2.

Students’ experiences varied from being moved to tears to simply enjoying a multimodal, inclusive and diverse message. They spoke of feeling connected. Saw themselves in others for moments in time. In snippets of messaging. And they felt like the representations that they encountered in VR could have been them too.

Students learned more concretely that they are not alone in the learning space, that they have agency and voice, that conversation and thinking matters. And they learned that the use of VR as a tool for learning works.

What kind of impact does this approach have on student learning?

At the end of the course, for example, students met with a shark tank-type group—investors from the community, business, and industry folks—and pitched them business ideas that would utilize VR to provide a solution to problems that were local, regional, national or even global in scope.

We came up with some pretty interesting topics and I'm happy to say two of them actually became businesses, providing delivery services for corporate and local restaurants. What was special was that both met an existing need.

I believe that the AR/VR provided a way of looking into the world that these students hadn’t considered previously and then when they saw the need, they moved into action to implement their plans.

Were you able to measure this success?

The way that I measured it was completion. How many of my students actually got through my class successfully? It was over 85%. My research from the two classes where I used VR and this approach shows students were engaged, and ultimately more successful in my classes.

Based on my use of VR in an English class, I would posit that students are also less likely to drop out of any class where they are connected to each other and to the content, and feel valued by the professor. VR and other platforms provide students another point of entry into already established content and ideas.

Since students are already participating in this space via VR versions of Minecraft, World of Warcraft, and more recently, Fortnite, they are already there waiting for us to creatively develop content that is rigorous and provides gainful learning experiences that encompass a multimodal approach.

Do you have plans to implement AR/VR for multimodal learning at Motlow State Community College?

Right now we're in the R&D stage. We're looking at health sciences as well as mechatronics, advanced manufacturing, and robotics. Those are spaces where I intend to initially start the utilization of mixed reality not as a toy but as a teaching tool for deeper integrated learning.

I think there's a tremendous opportunity to utilize existing technologies like zSpace, for example, to enhance and strengthen the current curriculum that we already use. Not to replace it, but to allow students to take this content with them, where they can manipulate, view, pull apart, and deepen their learning base. I think immersion is one of the predictors of future success.


Applications Available on zSpace

App Sector Description
zSpace Studio K-12 A rich model exploration and presentation tool that allows students to compare, dissect, analyze, measure, and annotate thousands of 3D models.
Newton’s Park K-12 Allows students to run or create their own experiments to deepen their knowledge of Newtonian Mechanics.
Franklin’s Lab K-12 Guides students through electricity concepts and troubleshooting faulty circuits.
Curie’s Elements K-12 Allows students to explore a periodic table with Bohr and atomic models for each element.
Euclid's Shapes K-12 Offers activities with math manipulatives and provides teachers with a guide to math learning.
Leopoly K-12 Introduces students to the world of 3D creation by helping them create, customize, and prepare digital objects for 3D printing.
Geogebra K-12 Allows students to better engage in math concepts related to three-dimensional topics.
VIVED Science K-12 A comprehensive package of detailed interactive dissection experiences.
zSpace Experiences
K-12 Includes experiential-based simulations of Earth, Life, and Physical Science topics.
Tinkercad K-12 An online 3D design and printing site that will allow you to import models directly to zSpace Studio.
VIVED Chemistry
K-12 Interactive dissection experiences focus on Human Anatomy, Botany, Zoology, Earth Science, Microbiology, and more.
Labster
K-12 Offers true to life Physical Science and Physics lab experiments for high school students.
Human Anatomy Atlas Health Science An award-winning human anatomy general reference.
VIVED Anatomy Health Science A high quality interactive software for learning anatomy in 3D.
VIVED Volume Health Science A tool for viewing and manipulating medical imaging scans (DICOM) on zSpace.
Virtual ECG Health Science Allows students to practice ECG electrode placement.
VR Automotive Mechanic Career & Technical Lets students practice assembly and disassembly within a virtual mechanic shop.
VR Automotive Expert Career & Technical A 3D interactive study guide for automotive training.
WaveNG Career & Technical Provides students with hands-on training in welding gestures, MAG and MMA.
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