Tennessee Tech News

VISION research lab the first of its kind

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A Tennessee Tech University student (above) uses the Oculus Rift virtual reality technology in the VISION research lab at Tech. Jason Beach, (at left) assistant professor of instructional technology in the Department of Curriculum and Instruction, monitors the progress of TTU student Alexandra Smith during a virtual reality simulation in the VISION research lab at Tennessee Tech.

Published Friday Sep 2, 2016

Preparing future teachers through the use of virtual reality is not just an ideal concept anymore. At Tennessee Tech, it’s a reality.

The College of Education has created the VirtualImmerSiveInteractiveObservatioN (VISION) Research Center which is designed to work with immersive virtual reality and explore its impact and future in teaching, learning and K-12 education.

“It’s one thing to explain something, but without actually seeing it, it’s hard to apply what you have heard to what you can actually see,” said Jason Beach, assistant professor of instructional technology in the Department of Curriculum and Instruction. “It’s going to improve our teacher candidates and make Tennessee Tech’s teacher education program ahead of everyone else in the state, even the nation.”

Through the use of Oculus Rift virtual reality technology, students become the teacher of a kindergarten class. The students can also become the kindergartners in the class and create behavorial dilemmas for the teacher to deal with.

“I like how you can see not only the teacher’s perspective, but the student’s perspective as well,” said Emily Tosh, a curriculum and instruction graduate student. “When they are sitting on the carpet, you can see how the students interact with each other and the perspective they have.”

How the teacher reacts to the students’ behavior is analyzed on a monitor, allowing the professor to see everything that is happening. It is the reactions of the teacher that will be helpful in preparing the Tech students for when they get in front of a live class.

“I’m really excited about it,” said Alyssa Windham, a first year graduate student, who is working on a master’s in school counseling. “I remember as an undergrad, we didn’t get a lot of experience before practicum, so when practicum came, it was really scary. Now you can go in and get a certain set of tools you didn’t have before.”

Providing the students tools to deal with behavior management is the first project being tackled, as it has broad applications across the disciplines. A future teacher can be taught how to handle certain situations after they experience it first-hand.

“We have strategies, pedagogy and ways of dealing with students, but there really is no way of actually having those students practice those strategies right after they have learned them,” Beach said. “This is an opportunity for them to try it out immediately, so they can monitor their skills. We want to make sure they are comfortable managing the kids, and that they are not undermanaging them as well. We can see that in the observation windows. We can see what they see.

“Beyond the management perspective, we can see who the teacher is actually focusing on,” continued Beach. “We can see if they have ignored a specific student. We can observe all of that information. That’s never been done up to this point.”

Using virtual reality is a way to not only prepare future teachers for the classroom, but to also connect with current students in the classroom.

“I think this is going to be more effective for reaching this generation of future teachers,” said Jeremy Wendt, chair and associate professor of curriculum and instruction. “We have students coming to Tech with Oculus sets, so their way of learning is a lot different than 30 or 40 years ago. They will gravitate to this.”

More students will gravitate to the VISION lab once more equipment has become available. There are currently five Oculus headsets with hopes of purchasing a lot more.

“We have a lot of students we’d like to have access to this, but we aren’t there yet,” said Wendt. “We’ve scrapped this together with technology access funds, with college money, foundation money and really on a shoe-string budget at this point. We are applying for future grants to expand this. We believe we are the only college of education in the state and possibly the southeast or U.S., and we’d love to scale it up.”

The possibilities for scenarios to put the future teachers through also seem limitless. Soon students will be using full-body immersion to simulate walking the students to the lunch room, being immersed in 360 degree classroom videos, practicing full lessons, and other situations of that nature.

“The students have been completely blown away by it. They see potential and they see value in it,” said Beach. “A lot of the artwork and interactions were developed by students in TTU’s iCube. It’s limitless. Any type of situation you can think of in a class, we can simulate.”

For more information on the VISION Research Center, contact Beach at (931) 372-3069 or Wendt at (931) 372-3181 or visit the site at https://www.tntech.edu/education/vision-lab.

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