The OU centre for STEM pedagogy
With many students opting to defer part way through a presentation and fewer attending live tutorials in Adobe Connect (AC), this project proposes to pilot the introduction of a series of four short (20-30 minute) tutorials using the Mozilla Hubs Virtual Reality (VR) platform on S296, Cell and Molecular Biology. The tutorials would be carried out as four parallel sessions each with a group of 20-25 volunteer students (i.e., approximately 100 students in total) in January, (when many students withdraw), with myself and an AL facilitating the sessions. This number of students will allow for natural attrition if students decide to withdraw from the pilot. The intention is also to host an informal introductory pre-Christmas session to get the students used to being in the VR environment.
It is widely accepted that students who are actively engaged with their studies and with other students are more likely to complete a module, compared with those who don’t interact. Despite considerable efforts, AC tutorials are increasingly unpopular, and students often don’t choose to attend live. Studies have shown that students are more willing to engage with their tutor and fellow students in a VR environment and that they feel engaged and learn better. The anonymity of VR also appeals to many students who experience periods of mental ill-health, including anxiety. Interacting through an avatar allows these students to work together in a way they wouldn’t feel comfortable doing in a traditional online room.
Historically, using VR has been problematic because of cost and accessibility. Mozilla Hubs is free to use (although an optional subscription gives enhanced security of access) and accessible via a link on any device. Although a VR headset is beneficial and provides a more immersive experience, it isn’t essential for students to be able to interact and participate.
The intention is to evaluate students’ perceptions of learning in a VR environment to determine if they find it more stimulating and motivational for their study, and a more accessible environment conducive to interaction. If so, this may be a useful tool for improving student retention and providing a more equitable learning environment for all students, including those with mental ill-health. If successful, the project could be extended to include more ALs and provide a VR option for all students at the cluster level.