Virtual Reality

Allegheny PA Teachers Train to Use VR to Open World to Classrooms


Teachers in the Upper St. Clair School District in Allegheny County, PA, have been training with virtual reality (VR) tools this month, so they can eventually bring the world to their classrooms.

During a training event on Feb. 10, 24 social studies teachers practiced using a range of VR gadgets, from the low-end Google Cardboard ($8-$15) to the high-end HTC Vive ($800). Their aim was to experience virtual reality and all its fun features, but also to think about how they will plan lessons around VR activities and make sure the exercises will have real educational value.

The teachers said they could imagine teaching about world cultures, travel, geography and religions using the VR headsets. Virtual tours during training included Rio de Janeiro, Brazil; Florence and Rome, Italy; and Manhattan from above.

Tyler Samstag, director of instructional innovation at the Allegheny Intermediate Unit in Homestead, PA, said virtual reality tools have the potential to support students with special needs, such as autism. The multisensory nature of virtual reality — a fully immersive visual and aural experience — could help engage students on the autism spectrum by giving them a safe space to explore and experiment with different activities, Samstag told the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review.

Some drawbacks to immersing students in VR would be the price tag ($800 per headset for an HTC Vive), the need to hook up with compatible computers, the requirement of high-speed internet access and safety concerns in some school districts.

To learn more about the educational VR efforts in Allegheny County, read this story by Jamie Martines in the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review.

About the Author

Richard Chang is associate editor of THE Journal. He can be reached at [email protected].