Teachers supported to embrace new technologies

Issue: Volume 99, Number 15

Posted: 18 September 2020
Reference #: 1HABGG

Integrating innovative technologies into cross-curricular learning will develop new learning opportunities and provide authentic experiences, which have been shown to provide improved engagement and outcomes for all students, says Dr Kathryn MacCallum.

 A Tamatea High School student explores a virtual reality activity she has created.

A Tamatea High School student explores a virtual reality activity she has created.

The associate professor of digital education futures at the College of Education, Canterbury University, is undertaking the Teaching and Learning Research Initiative (TLRI) project with Napier Girls’ High School and Tamatea High School. Her primary research question is: how can digital technologies, specifically mixed reality tools, be adopted to facilitate learning across the curriculum?

The revised Digital Technologies and Hangarau Matihiko curriculum focuses on providing students with skills to become innovative creators of digital solutions but a 2019 ERO report found that many schools are still grappling with the new learning areas.

Complex skill set required

Kathryn says that integrating digital technology into all aspects of learning requires a more complex set of skills and competencies from teachers and learners. She also notes that the recent development of low-cost mobile and online mixed reality tools and technologies provides new opportunities for a scaffolded approach to the development of student artefacts.

Mixed reality technologies cover the continuum from virtual reality (VR) to augmented reality (AR), explains Kathryn.

“There’s a lot of mixing between the two, where you might have a combination of the real environment and the digital overlay and it might actually engage with that real environment. The technology is unique in the way that it works. Augmented reality supports the learning context that you are in and gives you that digital overlay of where you are; whereas virtual reality brings you into a location that you might not otherwise experience.

“Technically students could create those sorts of environments, but this is very new to many teachers as well as students. I think the students are used to, and have engaged in, some of these environments, but probably most of them haven’t created them.

“Mixed reality technology is a unique tool that provides opportunities to integrate technology across the curriculum, while introducing really neat tools and experiences that the students can engage with creatively,” she explains.

Remote training and a walking tour

In the first half of 2020, Kathryn and her team worked with the Napier teachers, introducing them to the ideas and opportunities the new technologies offer. Cross-curricular teams at each school are supported by a digital technologies teacher.
The research uses a participatory design approach which enables teachers to design and research their own practice and collaborate with colleagues across subject disciplines.

“It’s really teachers being introduced to the technology and then, for them to identify how it might benefit and engage their students within their particular subject. We have been focusing on teaching the teachers and getting them comfortable with technology and exposing them to a number of different ways in which mixed reality can be integrated into the classroom.”

Most of the training was done remotely due to Covid-19, and Kathryn says the remote approach provided the teachers with opportunities to build technology skills and confidence through Zoom. Teachers also had time to do some extra work around creating their own artefacts.

Starting with augmented reality, they created different artefacts, such as a digital story around ‘Jane’, a fictional character who lived during the Napier earthquake.

“We identified some locations in Napier streets, then created a walking tour experience for others to engage with.”

When everybody was able to meet face to face, they worked on creating a number of other VR artefacts, such as using Tinkercad to create a 3D model, which were then made interactive using CoSpaces and projected into a Merge Cube.

“Then you can view it with your phone and manipulate it; hold it, change it and touch it. We are now going to get students to create their own artefacts,” explains Kathryn.

Framework for teachers

One of the conclusions of the University of Canterbury research project to date is that teachers need more time to play, explore and learn with the technology themselves, says Kathryn.

“We want to try and create a framework that can be applied to other schools, so it will probably draw on the ideas of ‘more time to play’. It will show the aspects of ‘if you are going to be doing this in the classroom, these are some of the tools that you might want to use, these are the resources’.”

The framework will likely be practice-focused and underpinned by a theoretical framework that will focus on supporting other teachers interested in exploring how mixed reality tools can be integrated across the curriculum.

“Our research is around not just the teachers’ digital literacy, but about knowing how to bring it into a teaching environment and the pedagogy to using it effectively. That’s really challenging for teachers who already have quite a lot in their own subjects to focus on,” says Kathryn.

Resources and reflections of teachers involved in University of Canterbury’s mixed reality technologies(external link) programme.

Teachers collaborate in cross-curricular trial

A group of STEM teachers at Napier Girls’ High School have been working together to develop digital technology resources and mixed reality experiences to enhance the learning of some Year 9 maths and science students.

Napier Girls' High School student Mackenzie (13) focuses on setting up a 3D camera to take photos of the landfill.

Napier Girls' High School student Mackenzie (13) focuses on setting up a 3D camera to take photos of the landfill.

Since the beginning of the year, a group of maths and science teachers, two eLearning teachers and a digital technologies teacher have been working with Dr Kathryn MacCallum to learn how to make AR and VR experiences through web-based applications such as Metaverse and CoSpace Edu, says Vanessa Fraser, science teacher and STEM lead at the school.

“We all come from different levels of ability as far as technology goes, but as we have become more familiar with the technology, we are now all really enthusiastic about how it can be integrated into current programmes of work. We are constantly learning about how to integrate this into our teaching to make our content more meaningful to the students,” she says.

Trip to the tip

The STEM team are working with the Year 9 science and maths classes on a sustainability and recycling project. In August they went on a trip to the local landfill, followed by a visit to Hawk Packaging which recycles paper into apple trays.

“Kathryn put together a CoSpaces experience which we gave to the students prior to going to the landfill. They went through the experience and learnt about the landfill before they got there. They learnt how to take 360-degree photos, which they took when they got to the landfill, and then used to create their own CoSpaces experience about the landfill. It definitely enhanced their experience,” says Vanessa.

The students are now looking at a range of solutions using design thinking, from how to reduce the leachate coming from the landfill, to what to do with the plastic gloves being used during the Covid-19 pandemic.

“Other students are investigating the amount of recycling and glass going into the landfill. There’s a huge amount that goes in, so they are looking at educating people around that. They’re going to be sending out surveys and questioning people about their practices and then trying to come up with solutions to change their habits.

“They will be creating mixed reality technology to try to inform and communicate some of these issues. We have some headsets, so with CoSpaces they could really create a virtual world,” she says.

Napier Girls' High School students take 3D photographs at the landfill to create an interactive augmented reality activity.

Napier Girls' High School students take 3D photographs at the landfill to create an interactive augmented reality activity.

Sharing the load

Working together as a group has been beneficial to the teachers involved.

“There would be so much work if it was left to one person to coordinate as there are many different facets to the program. For example, recently we were working together on learning how to use Metaverse. While we were learning how to use Metaverse and creating experiences for the students, one of the maths teachers set to creating instructions for the students on how to use Metaverse. It would be very challenging for one person to do everything.”

As for the students, Vanessa says they can take the technology as far as they want.

“Kathryn is supplying us with resources so that the students can learn more and more themselves and create quite high-level experiences if they want to. There is a facility for them to learn way above what we are teaching.”

Whenua past and present

Across town, Tamatea High School has two groups working with Kathryn: one is a collaborative approach by two Year 9 home rooms; the other group includes the social science and te reo Māori departments exploring the use of mixed reality tools to develop local curriculum to help students connect with the past and present of their whenua (land), says Kay Le Comte, head of technology.

In the first group, the junior home room classes are looking at conceptual-based projects inspired by the cross-school focus of change and relationships. This approach will draw across the curriculum to include learning from maths, science and English, with an emphasis on using the technology to support students to explore and communicate their ideas. The approach will focus on getting students to collaborate with each other and draw on creative uses of the technology.

“Because they have the same teacher for several of their core subjects, we are hoping they will be able to use what they learn through the digital tools across those subjects to develop inquiries of these concept topics,” says Kay.

Journeys through time

The social science and te reo Māori departments hope to connect the stories of the ancestor Tamatea, Otatara pā, the journey of Ngāti Kahungunu and other local stories into a layered experience for the Year 9 rangatahi (about 50 per cent of students are Māori) using mixed reality.

“They will start with the landscape and will be creating journeys. They will take images in the present day and fit it together so you will take a virtual journey to, and around, the pa – they will create this in something like CoSpaces. They will show how the land was, and is, and how it’s changed,” she explains.

“It’s early days yet but my understanding is that these students will see for themselves some of the physical and geographical places they know today, and be able to overlay them with virtual reality techniques showing the past and true links to their Iwi. There’s a real hope that this will help some rangatahi connect with their Māoritanga.”

Before beginning the project with students, teachers had a final practice of teaching, pretending to teach each other.

“I think the teachers are confident in giving it a go, which is half the journey. They are very realistic about what they know and how much potential there is in these types of learning tools, they are keen to give it a go and they know the students will enjoy it,” she says.

Kay bursts out laughing when asked about the challenges of integrating mixed reality technology into classrooms.

“They will want it in every class! I think it’s important to not go for the latest gimmick and still make it a learning tool. It’s not ‘hand the iPad to the kids as a babysitter’. The students can obviously have a good time, but there has got to be that ‘wow Miss, did you know?’ moment,” she says.

Student kōrero

Education Gazette asked some Year 9 students from Napier Girls’ High School about a trip to the landfill, which featured the use of mixed reality technologies.

Q: How did the pre-trip CoSpaces experience change the field trip for you?

  • It helped because when we saw the things with the information, I had more of an understanding about the things at the landfill. Maddison
  • It was quite hard to see all of the landfill from your phone but when you’re there it is so much easier to see and understand. Bonnie
  • You kinda knew what we would be seeing and already knew a few facts about the landfill. Mackenzie

Q: What new digital technology skills have you learned and used?

  • We learnt how to create a 360-degree photo of the landfill so if we forgot what it looked like we could go back and look at the photo. Bonnie
  • I learned that there are 360-degree cameras, which can get all angles of the thing you want to take a photo of. Ella

Q: What recycling or sustainability problem are you looking at? How do you plan to use mixed reality technology to inform people and possibly change their views?

  • My group is looking at how much compostable rubbish is going into the landfill. Maddison
  • We are trying to get people to be aware about how much rubbish is going into the ocean, what is happening around the world and how we can fix this problem. Bonnie
  • We are doing our problem on polluted waterways on farms. We could use AR and VR for this because we could survey farmers on whether they put livestock in the water that goes into their waterways. We could use the information we get from this survey to then help not pollute the waterways on farms. Ella

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BY Education Gazette editors
Education Gazette | Tukutuku Kōrero, reporter@edgazette.govt.nz

Posted: 9:09 AM, 18 September 2020

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