Sticky Stories in VR: Teaching with a New Medium (Part 1: Older Children)
Sticky Stories in VR: Teaching with a New Medium (Part 1:Older Children)
October 13, 2019
“Once upon a time...somebody wanted...but...so...then they lived happily ever after”...unless this story is in virtual reality where your “somebody” may be different than my “somebody” and the paths they take depend on where we take them. Regardless, we will likely remember them.
What makes ideas, concepts, information, or experiences stick in our brain for the long-term? Chip and Dan Heath’s 2007 bestseller, Made to Stick, explores six brain “sticky” strategies: Simple, Unexpected, Concrete, Credible, Emotional, and Stories. And while many experiences overlap and use several of these strategies at once, we can all identify with one that has been around since the dawn of time: stories. Pairing fiction or literary non-fiction stories with immersive technologies such as AR and VR have the makings of “stickiness,” and in this Attention Age where focus is a valuable commodity, that’s a good thing for education. This is especially true of Generation Z learners who have been exposed to technology since birth and expect efficiency and authenticity over glitzy bells and whistles.
The Future of Storytelling
When we think of virtual reality, we think of the visual, but anything that involves the senses can make a story more realistic. Just like the science-fiction book and movie, Ready Player One, VR for all of the senses is already possible, and for some things, heading toward everyday consumer use.
Auditory immersion considers the sounds that come from all directions and differ according to which direction a person is facing and moving. In the Google Spotlight* VR film, The Age of Sail, careful attention was paid to rendering all of the sounds of an early-century sailboat on the ocean in different weather conditions. We can now have virtual experiences that move beyond visual and auditory 3-D effects with VR haptics feedback that allows for the user to physically interact with his/her environment from taste to texture to temperature to smell. Who would have guessed taste is possible virtually? Will it be second nature to put on gloves, a body suit, Disney’s “Force Jacket,” or sit on their “Magic Bench,” which requires no headset or device, to touch objects that aren’t even there? Perspectives XR’s YouTube channel has a playlist of videos on these and other innovations. These innovations may seem far out into the future, but are they really? And, will education be ready?
Teaching and Learning with Immersive Stories
Students know story: personal, historical, fictional. What reading teacher hasn’t taught some version of the story arc? Consider the number of ways we encounter stories: from oral retellings to podcasts to text-based mediums, illustrations, correspondence, or graphic novels to video/film/advertising to performance-based storytelling with dance, music, or theater.
But, how do we teach students to understand stories when the “text” is not structured with traditional time-ordered devices for fiction and organizational structures for non-fiction? Consider the image for an interactive gaming narrative. How do we know what students are understanding if their experiences are all different? Will they remember details in a virtual setting once in the real world? It all goes back to your objectives and good teaching. (Thank goodness some things are still the same). Consider a few scenarios:
Scenario 1: 8th Grade Language Arts
Common Core ELA Standard*
Compare and contrast the information gained from experiments, simulations, video, or multimedia sources with that gained from reading a text on the same topic.
*Example State Standard: Texas ELAR*
Write responses that demonstrate understanding of texts, including comparing sources within and across genres.
Some standards are abbreviated or shortened for brevity.
Language Arts Lesson Summary: Students will read an opinion article from USA Today, I've seen the Amazon rainforest fires. They're a warning from the Ghost of Climate Future. Then students will experience Conservation International’s 360 VR experience Under the Canopy. Students could also explore Time’s AR experience Inside the Amazon: The Dying Rainforest. Collaboratively, students will compare and contrast information from the reading and VR experience considering time, facts about the main character (i.e. the rainforest), and unanswered questions. Discuss the ideas and impact from both sources.
Could you use the exact same content for the experiences above to teach the following, totally different standard?
Use critical inquiry to analyze the authors' choices of how language contributes to the mood, voice, and tone.
Scenario 2: 8th Grade Social Studies
Explain significant events of the Civil War, including... Gettysburg, ...
Social Studies Lesson Summary:Students will read and take notes from their textbook pages 310-11 on the Battle of Gettysburg. Students will then experience the battle using QuantumERA’s soon-to-be released 360 app, A Nation Divided, and take notes. Pairs will talk and synthesize their understandings from both resources. Perhaps the next day, they read diary entries of Union and Confederate soldiers to add to their understanding of the battle.
Again, using the same content, how might that lesson look different if the objective was the following?
The student applies critical-thinking skills to organize and use information acquired to support a point of view on a social studies issue or event;
You get the idea. We still need to align your objectives, best practice instruction, and assessments. But there are so many unknowns. What if sensory perceptions don’t match up? That could shatter the experience and the resulting dissonance could cause students to remember less. What if students form misconceptions? What about virtual motion sickness? Just as we answer some questions, new ones will arise. Studies done thus far have not all resulted in miracles in memory and achievement, but there are definitely positives.. Because, at the end of the day it will all be about understanding, memory, and application. And that, educators, depends on you.
Teachers, Get Comfortable with Nontraditional Storytelling Mediums
So do we use AR/VR stories in the classroom as teaching tools? Absolutely. Students will need many opportunities to make inquiries and seek understanding across multiple kinds of resources, including immersive reality experiences. Teachers themselves will need to vet immersive content and carefully plan how students will reach objectives. Additionally, educators will need to become comfortable with the idea that our ideas about stories is expanding and give students the guidance and permission to make the discoveries that will stick in long-term memory as scaffolds for future experiences, decisions, and creation of their own products.
Made to Stick is not an education book, but its marriage between brain science, real-life scenarios, and practical applications has great implications for education..so much so, that my fellow curriculum colleagues and I created a series of small professional learning experiences on how to use its principles in the classroom for student learning. Consider how AR and VR can address these principles, many simultaneously, and the implications for memory and learning. We just want the right information to stick and then we can all live happily ever after.
Note: Google Spotlight Stories closed shop earlier this year.. We like to think that it’s because these groundbreaking stories are becoming more ubiquitous and something even more amazing is on the horizon. The app and stories are still available.
The Institute for Learning Perspectives, or Perspectives XR, is an educational non-profit dedicated to helping educational institutions use immersive technologies to teach the humanities.