What is VREP?
The Virtual Reality Education Pathfinder (VREP) is an educational initiative and partnership between government, education, and industry creating an ever-growing consortium of schools and businesses committed to bringing a new kind of learning and teaching to schools across the country.
VREP works by capturing student interest through the use of Virtual Reality and 3D. Students within the program are offered high school and/or college credit for their work and gain valuable 21st Century skills such as: study, computer, and technical reading skills as well as the ability to research, communicate, problem solve, work in teams, collaborate, manage their time, and access resources to accomplish important goals and objectives.
VREP is self-directed, giving students the freedom to decide what areas are of interest to them and what technologies to use. Working with peers within their own school and across the VREP consortia, students complete projects, research and design their own virtual programs, and create 2D and 3D imaging that is then transferred into stereoscopic displays to create immersive virtual environments. Students and other viewers can then interact with the virtual environments, providing learning opportunities that engage today’s learners. Students in VREP are charged with creating virtual reality and 3D models, simulations and projects which serve several purposes around accelerating student learning:
- Projects demonstrate their understanding of key, high-level national and state educational standards and
- Projects are connected to curriculum areas and grade level expectations providing the opportunity for other students to understand key concepts and ideas through the use of VR and 3D. (e.g. A high school student may construct a 3D model of the solar system that allows an elementary teacher to show her/his students the rotation of the earth and how the positioning of the sun and moon creates day and night and the phases of the moon. The elementary students can then interact with this environment to position themselves in different places to better understand why the moon looks as it does and why it can be daytime in Asia and nighttime in North America.)
- VREP projects are connected to national and state standards and available via a secure on-line library (think of combination of amazon.com and Netflix.com) to all VREP schools and students, thus rapidly expanding the availability of high-quality VR and 3D applications for schools and children.
- The program is demanding and students are expected to be able to provide presentations and clearly articulate what they have learned on short notice. Students must show a willingness and desire to be independent learners and be willing to work in an environment where self-discipline and maturity are expected.
Impressive results are emanating from the initial set of pilot schools – formerly disengaged or minimally engaged students re-engage and improve their GPA, take increasingly difficult courses, and begin to see themselves as learners and capable students. At-risk, special education, high and low achieving students have all benefited from participation in VREP.
VREP is more about transforming learning and teaching than it is about technology. VR and 3D are simply vehicles for changing the traditional teacher-student relationships. VREP has no defined curriculum and requires no “lesson plans” from a teacher. Rather than trying to anticipate what students might need and building a structured plan for getting from A to B, VREP puts the learner out front. The idea is simple: Build a VR application that is educationally relevant and that demonstrates your learning. It is the teacher’s job to coach, support, facilitate, question, and challenge VREP students. Teachers spend their time applying their content expertise, asking probing questions, and working side-by-side with students as they work through problems and questions that have real meaning to them. In short, VREP teachers and schools create the conditions for students to engage and be successful and then make sure that the traditional system with all its constraints stays out of the student’s way.
Why the VREP model works
In an article on how non-conventional education works (the article can be found by clicking here), Peter Diamandia and Steven Kotler describe the actions of a university professor in India (Sugata Mitra) and his experiment with children who had received little to no formal education. Here is an excerpt from the article:
“The kids who lived in the slums could not speak English, did not know how to use a computer, and had no knowledge of the Internet, but they were curious. Within minutes, they’d figured out how to point and click. By the end of the first day, they were surfing the web and-even more importantly-teaching one another how to surf the web…Mitra moved the experiment to the slums of Shivpuri, where, as he says, ‘I’d been assured no one had ever taught anybody anything.’ He got similar results. Then he moved it to a rural village and found the same thing. Since then, this experiment has been replicated all over India, and all over the world, and always with the same outcome: kids, working in small, unsupervised groups, and without any formal training, could learn to use computers very quickly and with a great degree of proficiency…”
The Virtual Reality Education Pathfinder (VREP) is an educational initiative that offers K-12 students an opportunity to develop and expand their learning across the curriculum by capturing student interest through the use of Virtual Reality and 3D. Students become self-motivated learners and mentors for their peers, choosing to create VR projects related to their own interests and for educational use within the VREP consortia. Student projects serve to both demonstrate the designer’s competency on key national and state learning standards and to provide avenues for other students to better understand and demonstrate their learning against key standards.
VREP welcomes students from all disciplines and backgrounds. VREP’s impressive results has resulted in a multi-state effort by a growing team of business, economic development, educational, and K-12 partners. The VREP vision is to bring robust new learning opportunities to schools across the country.
Principal Rex Kozak at East Marshall High School in LeGrand, Iowa started an innovative virtual reality-based educational program in 2006 with assistance from the Mayo Clinic for a donated VR system. Using the open source 3D modeling software Blender, Kozak created a new course that attempted to engage unmotivated students by giving them an opportunity to create cutting edge technology projects based on their own interest. Students were required to produce eight projects a year – two each quarter. One of the two projects each quarter had to serve an educational need within the school with a teacher considered as “customer”. The other project focused on a topic of the student’s own choosing. The course was graded and Kozak relied on feedback from the students’ peers and comments from parents and teacher “customers’ for determining the letter grade. Kozak’s goal was to provide a workplace experience in which a manager may provide guidance more on the desired form of the deliverable than on the process. With the intention of making students confident in spontaneous, stressful situations (just as at work when the boss drops by), he often demands demonstrations from students on the spur of the moment for outside visitors.
Since 2006, 28 students have been invited to take one or more semesters of the VREP program. Kozak has observed qualitative success with his students, describing several students who were on the path of dropping out and were “rescued” by VREP.
After Kozak’s students demonstrated their accomplishments to the Iowa Department of Education, the Iowa Department of Economic Development (IDED), and the Iowa Business Council’s Advanced Manufacturing Research and Collaboration Cluster (AMRCC), members of the AMRCC agreed that the VREP initiative would be a boon to Iowa’s industries by producing more potential employees for CAD modeling, engineering design, and related positions. Jack Harris, Director, Advanced Manufacturing Technology at Rockwell-Collins, Inc., spearheaded an effort to scale the East Marshall effort to other schools, persuading businesses throughout Iowa to donate further VR equipment and urging his about (Rockwell) to prototype an inexpensive, portable 3D VR system that schools could afford. During the fall of 2009 eleven other Iowa districts began to use the VREP concept.