Should Educators Introduce VR to Their Digital Literacy Lesson Plans?

Kai Frazier
September 15, 2022

As students and educators prepare to return to the classroom this back-to-school season, it may be a good time to explore digital literacy lesson plans that incorporate virtual reality. This article will provide and use working definitions of digital literacy and virtual reality, visit professional industry stats, and explain virtual reality-incorporated curriculum in order to determine if the approach is a good way for educators to add academic enrichment to their current digital literacy activities.

Fundamentals: What is Digital Literacy? What Is VR?

The word “digital” characterizes devices that can record, communicate, receive or display information expressed in discrete numerical form. 

This includes tech tools for the classroom such as:

  • Smartphones
  • Laptops
  • Tablets
  • Projectors
  • Smartboards
  • Bluetooth devices/Interactive Displays

These digital tools have software and learning management systems that allow mobile apps to be integrated in homework and recorded lessons. 

“Literacy” simply means to have knowledge or capability in a specified field.

A good digital literacy lesson plan teaches students how to navigate online or virtual environments in a way that enhances their critical thinking skills, their digital efficiency, and increases their social awareness. As an end result, students are able to use new technology as effectively as possible to complete tasks while also creating a safe environment for others to do the same after them. This leads to growth that nurtures their digital literacy skills into adulthood.

In order to have relevant digital literacy lesson plans, you have to select relevant tools that smoothly translate to the classroom and are being used in the world today. Virtual reality is a popular technology that introduces a new virtual environment students will need to learn to navigate—making it qualify as a digital tool. 

Virtual reality originates from the three main extended reality (XR) groups:

  1. VR (Virtual Reality) has both audio and visual stimuli that fully immerse the user in a computer-generated, virtual environment. This environment can look like anything, depending on your experience. You can dive in an ocean and explore marine life, run with dinosaurs in a pre-homo sapien era, or leave the earth behind to go on tours of space all the while interacting with the environment around you. In this virtual environment you can even “touch” what you see in front of you and it will react to your actions. By involving most of your main senses using a head-mounted display, VR is your time machine, your fantasy book, and for the purposes of this article, your student textbook too.
  2. MR (Mixed Reality) is not as fully-immersive as VR. It is administered by a see-through head-mounted display and merges the actual physical environment with computer-generated elements. So, with MR you allow the display to scan your surroundings then you select an experience. This time, instead of placing you in a new environment, the dinosaurs, fish, or stars come right to your room. MR lets its users interact with the virtual elements and blends your reality into the computer-generated reality at the same time. (i.e Dinos in the dining room, trapezoids on the teacher’s desk).
  3. AR (Augmented Reality) is similar to MR in that it combines realities, but it is actually more close to Snapchat filters or apps that make you look like a puppy. This is made possible by superimposing digital content to the perspective of your handheld device. AR is more of a visual stimuli and 3D teaching tool to demonstrate concepts that students may need to see come alive. A class using AR doesn't even need head-mounted displays like VR and MR so it can be used by everyone during the lesson via individual smartphones.

A trained educator can use XR digital tools as great illustrations for abstract concepts in a way that is also fit for the modern-day learner. Digital literacy lesson plans using AR can have students use it in groups of two or three. They can write observations that teach them how to interpret filters or how to identify when an image or video has been altered by digital content. This is useful across many fields as it is now common for videos to be misleading or edited in a way that can mislead its message. A lesson plan using MR appeals to students who need a visual aid as they explain something. Since MR places virtual elements in actual reality, this digital literacy lesson can merge with an English literacy lesson to bring elements of a story to life and reiterate key takeaways to the class. 

These are a few simple ideas involving AR and MR that would bring value to your next digital literacy lesson. But what can a fully-immersive digital tool like VR bring to those lesson plans?

Image Source: jose aljovin on Unsplash

Why Use a VR Digital Tool in Digital Literacy Lesson Plans?

School itself is often the place young adults can get a head start on the world they are growing up in. With most schools forced to become familiar with online classes during the wake of the COVID-19 lockdown, virtual literacy became an essential skill for every student in the 21st Century. 

Working with this knowledge, there are several reasons why equipping students with VR skills is a good idea. VR:

  1. Extends lessons
  2. Promotes accessibility
  3. Translates to the workforce
  4. Restores academic excitement

VR Extends Lessons

Imagine teaching a group of middle schoolers about space. Most of the time, the digital tools used for this lesson are projectors and smartboards. Sure, each child could come up and circle the moon with the electronic marker, but it would feel a little distant.

Now imagine shaking up the medium with XR tech. For instance, without virtual field trips, students can:

  •  Use AR visual technology to superimpose constellation images onto a photo of the night sky
  •  Use MR to animate pictures into 3D and interact with them
  •  Use VR to engage in a 360° space trip with the planets and stars all around them

Full immersion will lead to a richer dialogue about the outer space environment. 

That’s just one example of the expanded horizon XR brings to a simple lesson.  XR is the future. In fact, 81% of educators think history, social studies, and science would benefit most from VR technology. 

Kai XR field trips make virtual reality for teaching easy with social study trips to:

  • The Great Pyramids of Giza
  • England’s prehistoric Stonehenge
  • Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s D.C. Monument

A rich understanding of VR, if incorporated into other subjects like science, history, and social studies, helps expand a student’s digital literacy to the whole school day rather than the time of a single class.

These virtual lessons could even reach the VR kids after the school day ends. With 76% of children already using VR to play other games, more and more parents are using it as a way to connect at home. 50% of parents are convinced that VR is a fun way to play together as a family. The constant exposure helps students pick it up and go when it is time to learn in class, and because it is in the home, parents could even start helping their kids with their homework again—despite all this “new math.”

VR Promotes Accessibility

While it admittedly is challenging for some schools to summon the capital needed for the technology and training needed for VR, once implemented, VR breaks down diversity barriers present in learning style and pace. Tools like Kai XR meet each individual where they are with educational VR that accommodates auditory, kinesthetic, and visual learners using:

  • Environmental sounds from virtual field trips
  • Lesson explanations and conversations around history lessons
  • Video demonstrations of scientific concepts
  • Hands-on manipulation of virtual tools and 3-D models

VR digital tools close the gap in child technology acquisition without having to enroll students in technology-intensive programs. VR also drastically reduces the need for explaining digital literacy activities for so long because it automatically tailors to the needs of many different learning styles. This gives you more time to move through the lesson as a class.

VR Literacy Translates to the Workforce

VR is the next big thing. With many companies crossing over to the VR pool in the coming years, it is of paramount importance to make sure students know what they will be working with. Companies are now even considering VR for training, as it lessens the possibility of injury on the job-site. 

According to The Edvocate there are only eight essential digital literacy skills that students need:

  1. Coding
  2. Collaboration
  3. Cloud Software
  4. Word Processing Software
  5. Screencasting
  6. Personal Archiving
  7. Information Evaluation
  8. Social Media Savvy

VR should be on this list as number nine. 

Interest in the Metaverse (a decentralized network of computer-generated worlds) has spiked since Facebook’s creator, Mark Zuckerberg, decided to rebrand it as “Meta.” A study, done by Pewresearch.org, interviewed over six-hundred technology leaders, developers, and policy leaders, discovering that 54% expect the metaverse to be an aspect of daily life for over half a billion people globally by 2040. Businesses right now are already getting a head start on this with 43% of manufacturing companies pledging VR as the new norm in their organization within the next three years. AR/VR are projected to increase to $72.8 billion in spending by 2024 and China is predicted to lead this spending by 36% in the same year. Right now is a good time to start training students for this upcoming trend in the workforce economy.

Kai XR teaches 21st century skills for students such as:

  • Deeper understandings of spatial concepts
  • Higher engagement with lessons
  • Increased digital literacy
  • Empathy Building through Social-Emotional Learning (which we will delve into later)
  • Problem-solving 
  • Collaboration
  • Critical Thinking

The easier it is to access VR and learn these soft skills, the smoother societal and professional transition these students will have in the future, regardless of career choice.

VR Restores Academic Excitement

Have you ever heard of the mantra “work hard, play hard”? In the world of business, it points toward maintaining a healthy work-life balance. When businesses support the work-life balance of their employees, it has been proven to maximize both profits and employee productivity. Play just as hard as you work. In a school setting where students typically start the morning with class after class until it is time to break for recess, the structure makes it easy to associate learning with work, and break time with play or fun. 

Well, what if working hard could be fun too?

Image Source: Mr. Bochelly on Unsplash

Several classes use websites like ‘coolmathgames’ for sneaky lessons in algebra through keyboard games or Kahoot via smartphone for competitive online quizzes. VR can be a source of relief from other typical digital tools like laptops and smartphones used to access regular, 2D sites like Kahoot. Using VR’s hands-on content in school to engage students in collaborative learning brings fun from the playground to the classroom—eventually leading to the important life skill of blending hard play with hard work for an innovative work-life balance.

When writing digital literacy lesson plans, educators need tools that do all of the above to reach the goal of improving those critical thinking skills and making more socially aware, successful learners.

How Can Educators Add VR to Digital Literacy Lesson Plans?

Image Source: Vanessa Loring, www.pexels.com

Next, we will dive into how educators can use VR in practical ways when it comes to planning lessons, starting with useful examples of:

  1. The Basics. 
  2. The Content Adaptations. 

Digital Literacy Lesson Plans: The Basics 

An easy way to start thinking about how to incorporate VR into your digital literacy lesson plans is to think about the now. What do you already do? How can you incorporate the new tech?

Start with these simplified steps:

  1. Create a lesson objective (students will learn to select their own virtual field trip and share takeaways with the class)
  2. Create a list of materials (i.e VR headsets, notebooks, etc.)
  3. Run through your procedures (join a group of two, turn on headsets, connect to trip together, etc.)
  4. Detail out your group sizes (no more than three per group for spatial safety concerns)
  5. Method of Assessment (this is where you would measure student learning objectives)

One challenge to keep an eye out for is managing each group in their virtual worlds. Depending on the amount of headsets available, students may have to take turns recording the answers on an answer sheet and voicing the VR experience to their fellow classmates. A way to monitor this will be to set up your computer to track the progress of each VR headset. Don’t think of it as micro-managing, look at it as a way to keep track of student learning as your method of assessment. This way you can gain insight into which group needs more instruction than another.

Content Adaptations and Digital Literacy Activities

There are multiple ways of remodeling content from one medium to the next—but which lesson translates more smoothly? Which lesson has the most to gain in terms of long-lasting impact when switched to a virtual setting? One topic of common ground happens to be in the ballpark of Social Emotional Learning. 

Social Emotional Learning (SEL) is like a training process that will cultivate a student’s ability to:

  • Collaborate
  • Self-regulate
  • Empathize

An SEL way of moving toward socio-emotional development is to show a real-life scenario of someone in community with others who is in need of self-awareness skills. Next, pose some questions. The goal is for students to get a new perspective on awareness, self worth, and managing their emotions. Before diving into SEL it is important to build trust with the class. This will also help you and other educators to pinpoint specific targets of growth for the class.

The topic in which SEL can come in handy, is one that is known by near all digital literacy lesson planners: cyberbullying. If you take a normal digital literacy lesson plan on cyberbullying and put it in the basic framework mentioned above, it may look like this:

  1. Lesson Objective: Students will recognize bullying behaviors and identify five ways to counter these behaviors with responsible and compassionate actions.
  2. Materials: Projector screen, video lesson, writing utensils, paper
  3. Procedures: Ask class to identify appropriate responses to someone who looks different than them. Have students list what makes them want to befriend someone new. Watch the first section of the video showing two students meeting for the first time. Pause and have students list the differences between them. Play the next portion of the video (mean online behaviors on social media) then pause for discussion. Identify bullying behaviors and share as a class. Have students write the answers down from the class discussion. Talk with students and have them share more appropriate responses to differences. Finish the video to see reconciliation. Break class off into smaller groups for fifteen minutes to discuss the ending of the video. Come back together as a class to share. Individually take the cyberbullying quiz on the back of their papers and turn it in.
  4. Collaboration/Group Sizes: As a class. Then in small groups of four or five.
  5. Method of Assessment: Turn in papers at the end with quiz answers.

Since it is already used in education, the social emotional learning questions you may ask can remain the same. Ask questions about the cyberbullying incident that gain insight on your students such as:

  • What are some things that made you happy while watching the video?
  • What are some things that made you sad or upset while watching the video?

Then, as a class, you come together and discuss healthy ways to manage emotions in this scenario. For digital literacy lesson plans in middle school, you could choose to lean into the statistics with information on the effects of cyberbullying—though maybe ease back into the emotional management discussion soon after.

There is nothing wrong with a normal digital literacy lesson plan like this. 

The incorporation of VR is just an option that opens the door to a difference in experience when it comes to perspective. With the immersive audio-visual VR technology of Kai XR, instead of writing out your digital literacy lesson plans like the one above, you could allow the students to explore the social emotional learning online games free of charge that will put them in the scenario. 

Image Source: Julia M Cameron, www.pexels.com

Kai XR is created as a safe space for K-12 learning.

Kai XR has different lesson plan options for each level of schooling from elementary to high school. Each level deals with an age-appropriate social emotional situation around what is pressing in their environment whether that is:

  • The Aladdin game for skills in self-awareness
  • The career in Illustration for self-management
  • The NBA All-Star game for relationship skills

A huge benefit of this is the fact that your lesson plan would be simpler to write. The learning objectives will be predetermined, your material list is short, and it will allow more time for you to try the games yourself to select the perfect fit for your classroom’s social dynamics. After the VR experience is over and students engage in discussion, you may find that the class answers differently than they would have using another digital tool for the lesson. 

Transitioning from an entirely virtual schooling framework back to a more normalized or hybrid-style of schooling means taking inventory of what to keep and what to lose. In the current age of technology, sifting out the necessary from the distractions is a challenging task for educators. XR, and more specifically, VR integration into the classroom is a way to solidify a prerequisite set of skills for your students to prepare them for the world ahead—no matter what they choose to become in the future. So, when it comes to VR forming an alliance with your current digital literacy lesson plans, here’s a chance to make a slightly more informed decision.

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In memory of my sunshine, Ky(ra) G. Frazier. Love you to the moon and back.