17 May 2023

Through the power of virtual reality (VR), school librarians can transport their students to different times and places in order to get immersive, interactive 360-degree views like never before. In other words, VR allows us to become our own versions of Mrs. Frizzle from The Magic School Bus–embarking upon a variety of engaging adventures with our students. Imagine providing students with the opportunity to witness key moments in history firsthand, explore the vastness of space and the depths of the ocean, or examine organ systems from within the human body. Due to its ability to transport us to worlds that may be unlike our own, VR provides librarians with a means for embodying and extending Rudine Sims Bishop’s “Mirrors, Windows, and Sliding Glass Doors.” Through the RAILS My Library is…Grant, the students of Shepard Middle School have been provided with incredible “sliding glass doors” in order to explore the world around them and within them through fifteen Meta Quest 2 headsets. 

These VR headsets allowed us to provide engaging, experiential activities to support students’ learning. In 8th grade, the students learned about the Civil Rights Movement through English-language arts as background for their novel study of Warriors Don’t Cry by Melba Pattillo Beals. In order to enhance their learning, students spent time in our school library viewing a short cinematic virtual reality (CVR) film, Traveling While Black. This 20-minute Emmy-nominated film is set in the iconic Ben’s Chili Bowl in Washington, D.C., where the viewer interacts with patrons in the restaurant who share powerful narratives about what it is like being Black in America–both in the past and in the present day–and the uncertainties, racism, and threats to their safety and lives they faced. In 7th grade, the students viewed an 11-minute CVR film called The Displaced, created by Vrse in conjunction with the New York Times, and immerses viewers into the lives of three refugee children–Chuol from South Sudan, Hana from Syria, and Oleg from Ukraine. This film was used as part of a larger study in 7th grade social studies where they explore human rights and refugee experiences through a variety of media. For both films, a two-dimensional, 360-degree option was made available. Around 5% of the students did experience some discomfort using VR–from slight headaches to dizziness or nausea. In order to make the films accessible for all, students experiencing side effects were able to view the film on their Chromebooks as an alternative.

The exit slips from our students expressed one resounding thought–how “cool” the experience was; many also described it as “powerful” and “memorable.” One student stated, “I felt the VR gave me the feeling of BEING there.” Another noted, “I feel like I was basically in the person’s life, and we have learned about refugees before but not in this way.” By utilizing VR in our school library, we were able to provide a rich learning experience that not only engaged students during the film but also had a more lasting impact on their academic and social-emotional learning. One student stated,“I understand this subject far better than before seeing their (sic) everyday lives using VR.” Another said, “It gave me an opportunity to witness and experience new things while learning.” Through our exit slips and follow-up discussions, it was evident that the VR headsets elevated students’ learning and global consciousness while also inspiring many of them to exhibit prosocial behaviors, explicitly stating they want to help in some way.

In an age when many students are drawn to videos as a means for exploring new ideas, our Meta Quest 2 headsets provide a powerful vehicle for extending students’ reading and learning through the “sliding glass doors” they provide. As a result, we can now travel both time and space without ever leaving our library! With such positive feedback from the teachers and students in our use of the headsets, we are already planning our next application–using an app called Maloka as part of mindfulness stations in our school library. Thank you, RAILS, for providing us with this incredible instructional technology tool! We look forward to many more virtual adventures to come! 

Today's guest blog post is from Andrea Trudeau, Library Information Specialist at Alan B. Shepard Middle School