Virtual worlds


This weeks readings regarding embodiment and VR/AR made me think about two separate platforms that I am starting to use in my classroom.  As Winn states“Artificial environments can use computer technology to create metaphorical representations in order to bring students concepts and principles that normally lie outside the reach of direct experience.”(Winn, 2003). Cospaces is a VR creation program that allows for the effortless creation of virtual spaces to interact with using cheap VR devices such as Google cardboard.  As the article discusses we learn more when immersed in environments “Bodily activity is often essential to understanding what us going on in an artificial environment.  The ability to move about makes it easier to remember three dimensional spacial layouts.”(Winn, 2003). I only had the final term to have my students start to develop spaces within this platform but what I did notice was the speed at which they picked up not only the construction of the virtual environment but the ease with which they started to code object interaction within the virtual space.  I have used Scratch for 3 years now to teach coding and CoSpaces uses the same Blockly script writing to code your characters or environment to interact with the user.  While Scratch is 2D the 3D plan seemed to increase intrinsic motivation, boost problem solving ability and heighten creative construction in a way that far surpassed Scratch. While there is of course the benefits of multimodal forms of learning I also believe that “memory retrieval and learning is aided when information is associated with physical locations.” (Bujak, Radu, Catrambone, MacIntyre, Zheng, & Golubski 2013).  Drop students into a lush tropical jungle in CoSpaces or Minecraft and get them to learn about perimeter and area will yield a much more memorable result than teaching it in a classroom.


The second platform that I have been experimenting with at home is Leap Motion

Now while most schools cannot afford a Vive or Occulus Rift this really is the next level for physical interaction with virtual objects.  “AR technology can aid the creation of embodied metaphors, by combining physical and virtual manipulatives into experiences where students use physical objects augmented with virtual information.(Bujak, Radu, Catrambone, MacIntyre, Zheng, & Golubski 2013).

The software/hardware combination is very powerful and while the price point is far too high I believe that soon we will start to see these kinds of infrared tracking devices hooked in to VR platforms used more in education.

As well as with CoSpaces I can attest to the fact “a significant difference in the behavior and engagement of students during the AR implementation as compared to their normal classroom behavior” (Dunleavy, Dede, & Mitchell, 2009).  Previously disengaged students suddenly don’t want to leave Math class because they are enjoying their time immersed in the experience.  We are just at the cusp of this new tech completely changing the way we teach and I am excited about the ways that VR/AR will transform learning.


Two questions:


How do we couple VR with content as building games is very time consuming?

What skills do we lose when implementing these new technologies?


Bujak, K. R., Radu, I., Catrambone, R., MacIntyre, B., Zheng, R., & Golubski, G. (2013). A psychological perspective on augmented reality in the mathematics classroom. Computers & Education, 68, 536-544.


Dunleavy, M., Dede, C., & Mitchell, R. (2009). Affordances and limitations of immersive participatory augmented reality simulations for teaching and learning. Journal of Science Education and Technology, 18(1), 7-22.


Winn, W. (2003). Learning in artificial environments: Embodiment, embeddedness, and dynamic adaptation. Technology, Instruction, Cognition and Learning, 1(1), 87-114.


  1. Thanks for sharing. I haven’t used CoSpaces before. How did you go about starting it with your students? Do you have access to their projects on a teacher account? Also, are there in-app purchases? I feel that when I played around with it before you had to buy coins to insert shapes into your world. Looking forward to trying something like this next year with my coding team.

  2. There is an ED account that you can purchase. I started with just having them build VR dioramas. Now I am just building lessons in it. You can really create a huge amount of content with just the free account!

    1. what was the learning curve like for you in terms of building VR dioramas? Did you find it time consuming? The investment of time and energy is also something that I was concerned about. But to make it cost effective, the teacher/facilitator could build these VR environments. This would also make it specific to the students and lesson objectives that the teacher/facilitator wants to achieve. But not sure if I have the necessary skill or time to make this a reality. Would love to hear more about your experiences with this.


  3. Hello Nathan,

    The questions you raised made me think seriously about the practicality of virtual environments and about what students lose when they get immersed in those environments.

    Here are two answers to the questions you posed in your posting.

    Answer to Question 1
    Coupling VR environments with content can be achieved through modular VR design. When learning VR modules are design with reuse in mind, they can be applied to different educational contexts, e.g. to teach concepts in Geometry or Art.

    Answer to Question 2
    The main skill we lose is to use the power of our imagination to create entirely new environments. Students become limited to what the specific VR technology is capable of. Of course, a flexible VR environment could potentially enhance imagination by encouraging students to create increasingly larger portions of the environment by applying a set of skills or by pursuing their own designs.

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