Students using virtual reality in the classroom
BY EMMA DAVIES
GRIFFITH University’s Postdoctoral Research Fellow Dr Timo Dietrich is asking the important question –how do you educate students about alcohol and drugs in an engaging way?
Dr Dietrich is trialing an alcohol education program called Blurred Minds in Queensland schools.
The program informs students about alcohol and drugs in an engaging way, using online games and virtual reality (VR) to provide students with an interactive learning experience.
“The vision is to gamify alcohol education,” Dr Dietrich said.
“We wanted to take a subject matter that’s usually a little dry, and make it fun and more engaging so that we can firstly get the kids hooked and interested, and then complement that with educational messages that are relevant and engaging to different types of audiences.”
The Blurred Minds program evolved because one size fits all approaches were not working. It was developed by researchers from Social Marketing @ Griffith and the University of Queensland CYSAR Research Centre, along with long-term partner the Queensland Catholic Education Commission.
The program puts students in the driver’s seat of learning, using cutting-edge gamification elements to provide students with interactive experiences that allow them to learn while having fun.
Engaging speakers, combined with online games, interactive quizzes and a range of outdoor and indoor activities, allows students to learn about the serious consequences of alcohol and illicit drugs.
Dr Dietrich said that many 15 years olds have had experiences with drinking already and even if they were not drinking themselves, they were increasingly exposed to scenarios where they were observing it.
“It’s important to create a program where we speak to different audiences, non-drinkers, people that may say yes to a drink every now and then to a drink but don’t want to get ridiculously hammered, and then the ones that already get ridiculously hammered – because I don’t want to lose anyone in this program,” he said.
“With games, we can start to engage everyone, and then we just need to make sure that the messages are relevant to whomever sits within that audience.”
The program focuses on the key outcomes of understanding the effects of alcohol and illicit drugs on the body and brain, building resilience, reducing peer pressure susceptibility, changing attitudes and intentions towards excessive drinking and helping students learn delaying tactics and strategies to stay away from harmful environments.
The use of virtual reality came about when researchers noticed the final lesson of the program had no interactive component and it was obvious the kids were not engaged.
“I was with some colleagues, immersing myself into virtual reality and augmented reality and I thought if we could bring it all together how cool would that be?
“We could make it a house party, the kind of scenario where kids are going to have their first drinking experiences and exposure to drinking.”
In its most basic form, VR reality is similar to the 360 degree videos people may have seen on their Facebook live steam or on YouTube expect that when they put on a VR headset they are suddenly completely immersed in the experience and their entire vision is inside that virtual world.
“When you start to put in interactive decision points, of the user becomes the director of the story,” Dr Dietrich said.
“You say, yes or no, dance or don’t dance, smoke or don’t smoke, and you make the decisions.
“That’s why the gamified application of that goes beyond just being a passive user in the experience to really becoming actively involved and making decisions”.
There are many potential applications for virtual reality technology in the standard curriculum beyond alcohol and drug education.
The technology allows teachers to put students in environments that would previously just have been spoken about or shown visually on a TV screen.
“Here we can have students experience and really immerse themselves in an environment without having the risks associated with that behaviour in real life,” he said.
“We can put them in to a party scenario and they can practice saying no.
“I think it’s about how are we equipping teenagers with strategies that also make sense and do not just come from that angle – don’t drink – because that doesn’t really reflect reality either.
“Around 80 per cent of Aussies drink and consume alcohol and not everyone is totally crazy when they drink.
“Most Australians actually manage to drink alcohol in quantities that do not exceed the lifetime risk guidelines.
“But how do we reflect that in our educational approaches when we talk teenagers?
“Parents have a big role to play when it comes to underage drinking and research shows that the longer we can delay teenagers from drinking the less likely they are to develop a problem with alcohol.”
Dr Dietrich said that virtual reality is a very powerful niche tool that can be used to create behaviour change, with many inexpensive VR headset options on the market.
For example, cardboard headsets were now available for teachers to implement into their schools and classrooms, with potential for the technology to fit into the pedagogical repertoire of schools.
“I think virtual reality is a game changer and our aim at Social Marketing @ Griffith is to build these interactive and emerging technology solutions into our behaviour change programs to help people live healthier, safer and happier lives,” he said.