At the ASU+GSV Summit, a leading digital learning summit held in San Diego, California, virtual reality (VR) enthusiasts had an opportunity to experience Dreamscape Learn pod, a first-of-its-kind, full-body tracking, immersive VR experience. Created in partnership with Steven Spielberg, Dreamscape Immersive and Arizona State University (ASU) unveiled the pod for the first time during the event.
ASU President Michael M. Crow and Dreamscape Immersive founder/president and former DreamWorks Pictures studio head Walter Parkes, worked together to create Dreamscape Learn. President Crow and Parkes together merged the ideas of creating Hollywood storytelling with the innovation from ASU. ASU has been a leader in innovation and cutting-edge technology and has been ranked number one in innovation for the sixth year by the US News and World Report.
I had the chance to speak with Lisa Flesher, Chief of Realm 4 Project Acceleration at Arizona State University, about Dreamscape Learn. Flesher shared the new pod, the first of its kind, has been in testing at ASU. Dreamscape Immersive also has storefronts in the United States and an international location in Dubai. To experience Dreamscape, you sign up, similar to how you would for a movie, to go through an immersive virtual reality experience. The Dreamscape Learn pods have taken what Dreamscape was doing and weaved it into the educational space.
To prepare, Dreamscape did testing with over 90 students who engaged in day-long sessions over a period of four weeks. After this testing period, they found that there was an 18% increase, the equivalent of two letter grades of improvement compared with students who did not experience the pilot.
The ASU and Dreamscape teams are confident that these immersive experiences will amplify the learning potential for students, in particular, because there are no distractions while being immersed within the VR space. Flesher mentioned distractions such as receiving messages on a phone or an Apple Watch. You cannot look at those while in the experience, so it promotes the continued engagement in the learning.
Beyond immersive learning, Dreamscape Learn also provides experiential learning opportunities for students. There are currently several experiences available focused on the biology curriculum. Three modules each have three acts of 10 minutes in duration. Students will work through nine virtual reality experiences in a semester. During the experience, students will be transported to the Dreamscape Learn XR “Alien Zoo,” a digital world that has been created.
Alien Zoo transports the user to a wildlife sanctuary where they can study endangered life-forms in the universe. While in the pod, students experience moving floors while surrounded by a very visually engaging and realistic environment where they can explore and engage in a more immersive learning experience. When the act is completed, students then work on lab activities in a traditional classroom style and can more meaningfully complete activities and engage in conversations, based on what they experienced through virtual reality. While in the pod, students are able to explore on their own, conduct investigations, and attach meaning to what they are learning in a more personalized way.
Through their immersive experience, students move from being passive learners and consumers to becoming explorer-scientists as they work to collect digital specimens, treat infectious diseases, and solve problems that connect with key concepts taught and required as part of introductory biology college courses.
The immersive experience helps students to connect to real-world applications. One example is when students are exploring the environment and can look more closely at a sick creature, assess it, look at the data, analyze the information, then work collaboratively with other students. Students will process and retain what they learn in a more meaningful way because of the level of engagement made possible through the use of VR learning pods. These opportunities are especially helpful when traveling is limited or similar experiences are not easily accessible. Being able to provide all students with the opportunity to explore on their own and collaborate with peers as part of the experience is of greater benefit.
ASU Prep is a K-12 charter school that has been doing a crosswalk with Dreamscape to see if this can work as a high school class. Biology 100 is a dual enrollment course available for high school students to enroll in and receive college credit. Providing this new way to learn and be immersed helps students to more closely connect with the content by interacting within the virtual space.
Students need to build skills such as scientific reasoning, critical thinking, taking risks and experiencing failures, problem-solving and iterating to continue to build their skills. The level of engagement provides a new dynamic for the retention of content material. Flesher stated that “you remember more because you were there and you experienced it.” She also added that with the learning pod, “You can’t see anything other than what you are experiencing which then pushes you to be fully present in learning and leads to cognitive gain.”
Virtual reality already provides the “wow,” which means we need to add activities that will enhance the learning experience for students. These enhanced experiences come in the form of face-to-face time and interactions, being able to foster communication and collaboration with students who are retaining more of what they’re learning because they are fully immersed in the learning experience. Check out the overview from ASU President Michael Crow here. ASU’s mission is focused on inclusivity and being able to provide these opportunities to more students. Dreamscape Learn is anticipated to be made available for students this year with plans to expand to other subjects in 2022 and beyond.
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