University of Western Australia: Virtual learning now a reality for STEM in schools

A new initiative from The University of Western Australia is using virtual reality and immersive learning to take school students into authentic science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) experiences.

Karina Price, the founder of the initiative, said the vision is for STEM XR to become the go-to place for quality, curriculum-mapped STEM immersive reality content for educators, meeting the growing market demand for eduTech nationally and internationally.

“Currently, teachers struggle to bring the STEM curriculum to life,” Ms Price said.

“Ineffective STEM education has led to student disengagement and poor STEM literacy and is an area of concern and of government focus, not only in Australia but globally.”

Virtual and related immersive reality – collectively extended reality, or XR – technologies present an opportunity to enhance secondary STEM teaching and learning.

“Demand from educators for learning experiences that can create tangible links between STEM curriculum subject matter and the application of these STEM skills to real world challenges are present and growing,” Ms Price said.

“STEM XR is providing an education solution by offering immersive reality content built from real STEM research stories and applications.”

A previous iteration of VR learning by Ms Price is the Virtual Plant Cell program, which gives students an in-depth look at the inner workings of a plant while connecting them with how global agricultural challenges can be tackled through science innovation.

Studies of the program showed students received (on average) 31 per cent higher scores in the assessed criteria, 85 per cent of students agreed the program helped them learn, 95 per cent of students said they would like to see more VR in class and all teachers agreed that the content was useful in the classroom.

Virtual Plant Cell experiences are offered along with astrophysics and other STEM-related content as part of multiple learning modules included in STEM XR.

Across the nation, primary and secondary education has undergone strong reform to bring more digital technologies into the classroom and Penrhos College are working with UWA to bring STEM XR to the school.

Will Horwood, Head of Library and Digital Literacy at Penrhos, said the college has evolved its use of virtual reality technology over recent years and he is now excited to learn what added value a dedicated platform like STEM XR can bring.

“Having grown our use of virtual reality over the last four years, it is clear that it helps promote class engagement and enthusiasm, enabling students to retain information better,” Mr Horwood said.

“The opportunity for learners to virtually experience real-world applications, and see them tied back to authentic STEM and research projects is game-changing. By allowing students to immerse themselves in this without leaving the classroom, we create incredible potential for the forward development of both the learning environment and the STEM curriculum.”

Partnering with digital platform provider, Facilitate, and VR consultancy company, LuminaVR, UWA has ensured support for schools as they introduce STEM XR.

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