VictoryXR Academy brings learning to life 1

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This week, VictoryXR opened the doors of its Engage-based VR academy for public tours, giving educators the opportunity to find out more about the possibilities of immersive education and experience it for themselves

Quick read

➨ VictoryXR Academy, based on the Engage platform, will launch in August
➨ The VR academy will be priced at $10 per student (counting the entire student body), which provides a full subscription for the school year. A smaller pricing plan is in the works
➨ Free, pre-recorded professional development mini-lessons will be available to subscribers, so that educators can acclimate to teaching in VR

The story

Imagine going to school in VR—what would you expect from an immersive learning experience aimed at your school-age self? It certainly wouldn’t be textbooks and detention. Instead, your expectations would come from your experiences. Video games, movies and books, most likely. Rather than reading about conditions on the Moon, you would travel there. Woolly mammoth skeletons? Time travel is possible in VR, so show us the ‘real’ thing. And so on, providing you with an immersive education that you can touch, see and hear, and is more impactful as a result.

With VictoryXR Academy on Engage, first announced in April, going to school in VR is just that.

This week, VictoryXR opened the doors of its VR academy for public tours, giving educators the opportunity to find out more about the possibilities of immersive education and experience it for themselves.

Steve Grubbs, chief executive officer and co-founder of the award winning VictoryXR, which has created more than 240 VR and AR educational experiences spanning more than 50 different learning units since its inception in 2016, said during the tour of VictoryXR Academy: “Our mission is to create a campus that allows any teacher in the world to teach in a place that brings learning to life.”

Grubbs pointed to underfunding in education, with many institutions unable to afford state-of-the-art facilities for science, technology, engineering and maths subjects, and argued that the problem could be solved by access to VR headsets and a subscription to VictoryXR Academy. He said: “And with that, suddenly, you have more at your disposal than the wealthiest school districts building all the facilities that they can on campus. This is the great creator of equity in education.”

VictoryXR also wants to give students the opportunity to access classes that wouldn’t otherwise be able to in the real world. Grubbs said: “For example, if you have a student in your school who wants to learn Manderin, you probably don’t have a Manderin teacher. In VictoryXR Academy? No problem. Or what if you want your student to get extra instruction in science after school? Why not have them learn from one of the world’s finest teachers in Wendy Martin?”

Martin, a runner up in the US-based Live! With Kelly national Top Teacher Award in 2012, has been teaching high school- and college-level science classes for more than 20 years. In addition to her teaching role, she provides guidance as a consultant to many VictoryXR education projects. Grubbs said learning and education underlines everything VictoryXR does and Martin’s participation as a teacher and adviser strengthens the offering for students.

What you imagine sometimes comes true

VictoryXR will be priced at $10 per student (counting the entire student body), which provides a full subscription for the school year. It is also launching a smaller cost plan for a single class.

Subscribers gain access to a library of VR learning assets numbering at more than 3,000, including human organs, planets and artefacts from the Smithsonian. It also offers more than 100 virtual field trips around the world, and a similar number of 2D videos that teach different lessons, with more added all the time. And VictoryXR provides the classroom space. It is in both assets and space where VictoryXR Academy really excels.

The walking/teleporting tour through VictoryXR began in a simple auditorium like any throughout the world. Then the experience took on the feel of Charlie and Chocolate Factory in the wonderment and detail on offer.

The tour took in a science lab with human hearts to expand and explore, a museum of various traditional exhibits set in a tomb not unlike a set from an Indiana Jones movie, a trip back in time to 8,000 years ago to visit living, breathing woolly mammoths, after seeing the VR recreation of a real skeleton on loan from the Smithsonian.

VictoryXR Academy lets you teleport Star Trek-style to the moon and see a full-scale recreation of the Apollo 11 moon lander
VictoryXR Academy lets you teleport Star Trek-style to the moon and see a full-scale recreation of an Apollo moon lander

The highlight of the tour was a visit to VictoryXR Academy’s planetarium, where you can take in a controllable star map on the ceiling and point out constellations, and then teleport Star Trek-style to the moon and see a full-scale recreation of an Apollo moon lander.

‘Substantive, accurate and standards-aligned’

Impressive as VictoryXR Academy is, and anyone taking the tour will be hard pressed to find flaws, it is practical objections, such as educational quality and implementation, that educators might raise.

Rene Gadelha, vice president of curriculum development at VictoryXR, is in charge of professional development and teaching educators how to use the academy. She said that a series of free, pre-recorded professional development mini-lessons will be available to subscribers, so that educators can acclimate to teaching in VR. They cover everything from finding the right lesson plans to interacting with the academy’s vast library of objects and videos.

“I was not at all familiar with VR when I first started, and it only took me about a week and half, after doing the tutorials and practising. I picked it up pretty quickly.”

Wendy Martin, VictoryXR

Any educators worried about taking their first steps in VR need not be, according to Martin.

She said: “I was not at all familiar with VR when I first started, and it only took me about a week and half, after doing the tutorials and practising. I picked it up pretty quickly.” Indeed, the science lab where Martin ran a short lesson on human anatomy was also designed and furnished by her.

VictoryXR lesson plans will be vetted at submission, to ensure that they are aligned with standards, or if the submitter is doing a master’s course. Gadelha explained, citing an offered example of teaching butchery: “That is a very expensive thing to do and you do not necessarily have to have a teaching certificate or be a registered teacher for that, but you might have expertise in a certain area, so we will look at those on an individual basis.”

She added: “Education is the foundation of all of this and everything will be vetted to make sure that it is substantive, accurate and standards-aligned, if that is appropriate.”

Access to the required VR headsets need not be an issue for schools and colleges interested in accessing VictoryXR Academy. Last year, VictoryXR teamed up with Pico Interactive to offer a hardware and software bundle that makes immersive education more accessible and affordable. And the headset maker is fully on board with the new Engage-based offering.

“Schools want the setup to be as easy as possible and they want the students to focus on the lesson at hand. They want to engage their students better than 2D mediums with immersive VR education.”

Will Winston, Pico Interactive

Will Winston, sales and partnerships director at Pico, told VRWorldTech that schools and colleges have shifted from ‘we might try this’ to ‘we need this’ when talking about immersive education, following the outbreak of coronavirus (Covid-19) earlier this year.

He said: “Standalone headsets have made VR cheaper and more accessible for schools to adopt this technology at scale so the combination of these two forces has tipped the conversation in a positive direction.”

Winston added: “Schools want the setup to be as easy as possible and they want the students to focus on the lesson at hand. They want to engage their students better than 2D mediums with immersive VR education. Pico headsets lend a high resolution, easy to use platform and a dedicated single app learning experience so students can’t get distracted with other things.”

When can we expect VictoryXR Academy to welcome its first students? Grubbs told VRWorldTech that VictoryXR is currently in talks on the new academy with several large school districts in the US, ahead of its likely launch in August.

He said: “When we finalise those details, we will announce them. We expect to have an agreement in place with one of the top five school districts when we make this announcement.”

Main image: VictoryXR Academy’s planetarium, where you can take in a controllable star map on the ceiling and point out constellations
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