Promoting rural and regional STEM education with VR-haptics

The challenge

Haptic feedback technologies increasingly feature in our everyday lives, for example, in smart phones and other touchscreen devices; fitness trackers and smart watches; haptic pagers and alarms; and in video and virtual reality (VR) game controllers. These everyday devices allow us to send and receive signals via touch. Haptics technologies also offer possibilities for enhancing the teaching of concepts and skills that are otherwise difficult to learn due to practical, financial, ethical, and safety challenges. Because this technology enables simulations that escape the confines of human scales in time and space, haptics can also support learning experiences that would otherwise be impossible to facilitate.

Applications of VR-haptics for education and training have been developed for industry training and higher education settings, but their use in school settings is rare. Beyond the everyday devices noted above, very few schools have access to haptics devices for learning and very little suitable content exists for teaching school curriculum. Additionally, schools are rightly wary of investing in new technologies because of the risk that initial novelty supports interest that is not sustained over time and doesn’t deliver the benefits imagined by developers. Yet haptic-enabled VR learning would offer important benefits to school learning, potentially enhancing student engagement, enhancing curriculum learning, and providing students with access to new skill sets that will feature in the industries of the future.

For curriculum learning, VR-haptics can provide students with sensory learning experiences to explore concepts that are otherwise very abstract and difficult to understand. Many school students in Australia have experienced haptics technologies in their homes through video and VR gaming, so they already have skills in using haptics controllers and using haptics to manipulate digital objects. School usage has the potential to connect students’ out-of-school informal learning with in-school curriculum learning and through this to enhance students’ interest and engagement in school. Additionally, using VR-haptics in schools provides an opportunity for all students to develop this new skill set and to have insights into the types of experiences and learning that can be supported via this technology.

Warrnambool College students using VR equipment.

Project overview

This research and development project will design, develop, and pilot VR-haptics experiments aimed at helping secondary school students explore  concepts from the secondary physics curriculum, a sub-domain of science that is renowned for abstract concepts that many students find difficult to understand.

Deakin researchers are working with teachers at two regional schools (one large inner regional school; one small outer regional school) in South West Victoria. A design-based research and development methodology provides for detailed teacher input and feedback on the design of VR-haptic physics experiments and how they might be implemented for classroom learning. This input will be critical to the success of the project so the new technology can be contextualised to the institutionalised practices of schooling in meaningful ways. Secondary school students will trial the designs, and feedback will be provided by the students and the teachers.

Dr Van Thanh Huynh and research assistant Dilshan Bataduwaarachchi show Heywood and District Secondary College students how to use a haptics device.

Outcome

  • to develop proof-of-concept for the implementation of VR-haptics in secondary school science learning.
  • to develop teaching and learning resources that illustrate how VR-haptics can be successfully implemented in the classroom.
  • to identify considerations and success factors for effective design partnerships with schools to design and implement VR-haptics for curriculum learning.

Project team

The interdisciplinary project team draws on expertise from REDI and the Deakin School of Engineering, bringing together expertise in VR-haptics design and knowledge about school contexts and practices.

 

Funding

$49,980

Telematics Trust

Timeline

2022 – 2023

 

More information

Listen to Associate Professor Julianne Lynch talk about the project on ABC breakfast radio (5 May 2023):

 

 

 

 

Keywords

virtual reality, educational technology, science education, STEM education