Shazia Sarwar-Azim: Guest Author – Immersive Reality Technology within the Curriculum

This article was written by Shazia Sarwar-Azim – Executive Headteacher and Managing Director at Emotional Therapist Coach Ltd. 

Shazia has written this wonderful article for us, explaining how Immersive Reality technology has benefited children’s learning, whilst enhancing subjects on the curriculum.

As well as writing this article for us, Shazia is also the author of a fantastic children\’s book – ‘The Rainbow Within’. The book focuses on ASC (Autistic Spectrum Condition)/SEMH (Social Emotional Mental Health) children who find it difficult to manage their emotions. A butterfly comes along and gives them top tips to regulate!

The Brave Butterfly helps Zara to take a journey of self discovery and she learns how to express herself.  The book facilitates conversation, creates a safe space for children, young people and adults to discuss and implement appropriate strategies. As a result, they improve their mental health and well-being.

You can find out more about Shazia on her website, as well as on Facebook, via her author page and her Emotional Therapist Coach page. She is also on Instagram.

Read the full article below, about how Immersive Reality technology supports the curriculum in schools, and the fantastic effects that the technology has had on pupils.

As an Advanced Skills Teacher (AST) in 2006, I supported the introduction and development of Interactive White Boards (IWB) into the Primary School settings across Greater Manchester. As an AST, I was ensuring teachers were trained to use the IWB effectively and passionately to enhance learning experiences.

Using technology in the classroom was always a passion and as technology changed, my teaching style changed, and I became more obsessive about technology. I set up computer suites, modelled the use of technology (VR sets, Bee-bots, digital microscopes etc) and was at the forefront of advocating using technology. I had been evidencing how it improved standards, engaged learners, and removed barriers. Children were excited by new gadgets within the classroom and so were the teaching staff.

As a Headteacher of an ASC/SEMH Primary and Secondary School, I introduced my teaching staff to Immersive Reality Technology – it was a 21st Century resource that needed to be explored. The world was becoming increasingly technologically driven and we had to expose our children to the next level of technology.

There was a huge amount of research that stressed the importance of using technology to hook vulnerable learners with Social Emotional Mental Health to improve engagement, interaction, and connection, so that progress could be made. The Immersive Reality experience wasn’t something new to the world – pilots had been using stimulation for years to fly a plane, astronauts had travelled into space and doctors were using this to practice complicated procedures. So, if we truly wanted to open our children to the world of work, we had to expose them to Immersive Reality Technology.

Over the years as the national agenda changed and teachers were becoming facilitators, less teaching was carried out in front of a class. The teaching and learning style in this school was based in line with metacognition and self- regulation theories, and therefore the introduction of the Immersive Reality Room (IRR) was a perfect platform for the pupils to monitor and evaluate their progress, as well as plan learning experiences that would ensure progress towards the end point was being achieved.

Teachers found the room easy to use – it features remotes to turn on the technology, a tablet computer to select scenes, and familiar gadgets (Xbox controllers, wireless keyboard etc) to navigate scenes within the space. Teachers were trained to use the technology within the hour, and spent the rest of the morning exploring the packages and becoming excited about what Immersive Reality had to offer the curriculum.

The files were organised in curriculum areas, making it easy for teachers to find, and later develop, content. Teachers were now planning how to use the scenes in their lessons to facilitate the learners in the development of enriching their knowledge base and practical experiences.

There were many different types of scenes to be explored in the immersive space. They were interactive, giving you several sensory experiences. For example, in Geography, focusing on the travel and tourism industry, children were encouraged to write brochures after they virtually visited the Serengeti. Within the scene, they identified and classified animals as well as plants. They designed merchandise (animal print t-shirts and caps) based around animal patterns. They even watched the sunset and camped underneath the stars as explorers.

Using the immersive space gave the children a captivating sense of real life experiences, and as a result evoked feelings of awe and excitement. The dramatic difference in the quality of writing was noted during book scrutinies. In Lower Key Stage 2 (KS2), sentence level improved and in Lower Key Stage 3 (KS3) the structuring of text as a whole improved, especially the use of paragraphs.

As scientific enquirers, the children were able to work scientifically by identifying and classifying the planets that were whizzing around them. Children in KS2 (Year 5) travelled into space and reported on the Earth’s rotation to explain about day and night and the movement of the sun across the sky. They were able to demonstrate how they were able to interpret observations and other data, trends, making inferences and drawing conclusions. They felt like astronauts in space. When they touched the planets, facts would appear, and in Year 6, children were able to use this information to write non-fiction books.

Moments that were previously teachable through videos, books and photocopied sheets were now taught through immersive experiences that enabled our children to be motivated and engaged to initiate and join in leading conversations. With effective facilitation and guidance throughout the experience, pupils made the connection from theory to practice and voiced the multifaceted depth of implications the experience had on their learning.

We noted a huge improvement in communication – children initiated and joined in conversations. The respect for others when communicating improved, even when views differed, they listened attentively and children across the school developed a rich and varied vocabulary that interested the learners to use in conversations and in their work. There was a huge difference between the communication style in the classroom, compared to within the IRR. Children were more patient and courteous. They supported each other to be solution focused when discovering new aspects of the technology.

At the end of a topic, children used the Immersive Reality Room to set the scenes to tell stories that captured the interest and imagination of the audience. The IRR was also used to hold presentations and art exhibitions. In summary, through the integration of innovative technology and approaches to teaching and learning, pupils clearly transformed as they developed skills that they could apply to the real world.

Immersive learning not only held the key to addressing the challenges of the digital age, but significantly improved education by harnessing the power of technologies such as virtual, augmented, and mixed reality. The pupils’ experiences were powerful and meaningful, with all the young people reporting that this experience was so much more exciting than being sat in a classroom looking at an Interactive White Board.

Children enjoyed the range of gadgets that supported their learning within the curriculum, and they could measure their interaction and engagement and link it to how much progress they had made. Children reported that being teleported to new realms and experiences opened their imagination up to a whole host of endless possibilities of what the world and beyond has to offer.
Shazia Sarwar Azim FCCT, NLP, NPQH, AST, B\’Ed

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