Trainee teachers at the University of Sunderland embrace virtual reality to prepare for life in the classroom

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'The possibilities made available are truly endless'

The next generation of teachers studying at the University of Sunderland are using virtual reality (VR) to help prepare them for their future careers in the classroom.

The University’s School of Education’s new VR headsets allow its trainee teachers to immerse themselves in a variety of realistic simulations to develop their understanding of topics they will need to deliver as part of the National Curriculum.

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Examples of the simulations include moving through the human body as a piece of food to learn about digestion, and skiing across the Arctic as part of a Geography lesson.

One of those to benefit from the pioneering method of learning is trainee teacher Rhys Williams, who is studying BA (Hons) Primary Education with Qualified Teacher Status.

Trainee teachers with the virtual reality headsets.Trainee teachers with the virtual reality headsets.
Trainee teachers with the virtual reality headsets. | UOS

Rhys said: “The possibilities made available are truly endless.

“My personal view is that these technologies could create very enticing experiences that could be implemented by external providers who specialise in creating and conducting learning experiences, in the same vein as specialist sports coaches conducting PE lessons.”

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University of Sunderland lecturer Martin Holt has been instrumental in introducing the VR headsets and, in addition to supporting trainees and academic teaching staff, Martin has visited a number of the University’s partnership schools to introduce the technology to teachers and pupils.

Lecturer Martin Holt explaining how to use the virtual reality headsets.Lecturer Martin Holt explaining how to use the virtual reality headsets.
Lecturer Martin Holt explaining how to use the virtual reality headsets. | UOS

He said: “As part of the School of Education’s Lecturer in Residence Scheme, where lecturers go into schools to share best practice and facilitate partnership work between the University and local schools, I have been able to see first-hand how effective the VR headsets are for both primary and secondary pupils.

“For our trainee teachers, the headsets promote high levels of engagement during lectures as they become fully immersed in the content of the sessions.”

One of the partner schools to benefit from the VR headsets is Yarm Primary School in Teesside.

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Year 1 teacher and school mentor Rebecca Gott said: "Pupils thoroughly enjoyed their science-based VR headset session. This approach with hands-on-learning fully engaged pupils and furthered their understanding of a topic which can traditionally be difficult to visualise.”

Vicki Stokes, Associate Head of School for Primary Initial Teacher Training at the University of Sunderland, said: “The introduction of this new technology gives our trainee teachers the opportunity to consider another approach to teaching in the classroom.

“Martin has provided students and the wider team with an excellent example of how effective these can be when used in a primary classroom. My thanks go to Martin for all his work in developing the use of this resource.”

Dean of the Faculty of Education and Society at the University, Professor Lynne McKenna MBE, is excited by the potential teaching opportunities the VR sets can create to enhance learning.

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She said: “Martin has not only taken this new technology into our partnership schools, he also introduced training sessions for academic teaching staff in the Faculty of Education and Society. Indeed, when I put on a headset, I was transported to Dubai for an interactive Geography lesson.

“I could immediately see that the applications for this technology are endless. With properly designed teaching and learning lessons, pupils’ learning involvement can be developed through interactive activities encouraging their engagement.

"Once again, our Initial Teacher Training teams are embracing new technologies to enhance learning and teaching in the classroom.”

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