As an innovative and forward-thinking institution, Fife College is committed to our Digital Strategy and to playing our part in Scotland being a vibrant, inclusive digital nation. To deliver on this, we strive to put digital at the heart of everything we do.
One of the ways in which we are continuing to improve our teaching practices and engage our learners is through Virtual Reality (VR). VR is currently being used in learning and teaching across the College, and much of this technology is even being developed in-house by our staff.
Within the vocationally-related subjects that make up our Supported Learning courses, VR has been introduced to bring learning alive and help engage our students.
The students on our New Directions course undertake projects that help to develop their social employability skills through the medium of VR, helping to address students’ individual barriers to learning through expanding their essential skills and knowledge base. VR activities are designed to build confidence and increase awareness in the learner, as well as to intensify awareness of other’s needs.
Students taking part on this course attend Fife College one day a week from local secondary schools. New Directions is aimed at students who are disengaged from learning at school, and who are looking to find out more about the types of courses available at college.
New Directions is made up of vocational subjects and is embedded with topics that address personal needs such as confidence, self-esteem, and self-worth. The aim is to support the transition of these students from high school onto full-time supported learning courses at Fife College, which will then lead on to mainstream courses suited to each individual learner's interests and skillset.
The introduction of VR has had a very positive impact and enhanced the learning experience for our New Directions students; bringing learning alive in an innovative and engaging way.
Getting to grips with VR
Virtual Reality was introduced onto the New Directions School College Partnership course in 2016 through SQA Personal Development: Practical Abilities Level 3. The aim of this was to pilot a fresh approach to learning, and to allow our students to try new technology, whilst also building their confidence and knowledge, and building their skills.
For this unit, co-space software was used. This software has helped engage learners, introduce them to new technology, break down any barriers with basic digital skills, and allow them to quickly get to grips with the basic skills required to create their own ‘digital virtual environments”.
Through the introduction of simple coding, students are able to gain confidence, not only in using this software, but also in finding their creative abilities. This allows them to identify their strengths and areas for development and, through a project of their choice, recognise and develop their skills.
Working on the VR programme allows students to gain:
- Integration with peers from other backgrounds (and often from rival schools)
- Integration with others at all levels; staff, senior management, students of all ages, outside agencies, and employers
- Access to the wider college’s resources; expanding the individual’s skills and knowledge base
- Social skills, and a value base
- Essential Skills, reinforcing learning
- Better retention of information
- Knowledge of STEM, and employment opportunities within STEM industries
- Experience of real life situations, and working in a team
- Opportunities to communicate with people in all aspects of life
- Experiential learning through virtual visits to museums, zoos, and art galleries, through Virtual Reality
Creating unique VR environments
Drawing on the knowledge and skills they have developed through their introduction to VR, students were then asked to create a series of 360° environments of an area/location within the College. They could pick from a classroom setting, library, or refectory.
Drawing on their own experience, and the experiences of other students, the students created virtual college tours using 360° cameras, pin pointing key areas – for example, a reception tour would highlight key areas such as the funding and guidance offices. These projects not only allow the learners to develop their digital skills and knowledge but also assist in developing social skills and building confidence through interacting and engaging with fellow students and staff.
The videos are a useful tool that can be used by a variety of departments, giving potential students an insight into the range of facilities the College has to offer whilst also helping to break down barriers and reduce and feelings of anxiety that new students may face before coming to college for the first time themselves.
These tours and others that have been created by our students are used to showcase the College. Below are links to examples of the type of virtual tours that have been developed by our New Directions students:
Sharing best practice within the College
The benefits of VR are shared widely throughout College, and students from the New Directions course, along with their lecturers, can now confidently deliver workshops and taster sessions to both students from different courses and curriculum areas across the College and staff. These sessions are very popular, and the benefits of VR are now more widely recognised and included in our learning and teaching.
VR sessions were also incorporated into a series of recent Foundation Apprenticeship events with high schools throughout Fife.
The College now includes elements of VR in a diverse range of subjects including engineering, architectural technologies, and digital technologies.
Staff VR workshops are now on the CPD calendar for all Fife College staff to attend as part of their professional training. They cover equipment and uses, allowing staff to deliver tailored lessons with the use of Virtual Reality.
Our students have also been working with external partners, including Fife Council, Cycle Park, and Scottish Water-Ski Association, introducing staff to VR and helping develop virtual tours of the employers’ premises, which are then shared on Google Maps, social media, and the organisations’ own websites.
Enhancing prospects and improving student experience
The introduction of VR to the New Directions course has enabled students to make enhanced choices through an active virtual experience, leading to progression in life, whether that be:
- College – progression to a further learning opportunity
- Career – progression to workplace
- Life Choices – being able to make well informed choices in life
The VR model is now being introduced to other School College Partnership courses at Fife College to help with the engagement and achievement of the hardest to reach pupils.