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A joint dossier from Carrefour education and L'École branchée

This file is intended as a starting point for anyone working in the education sector who wishes to explore the concept of virtual reality (VR). It offers a broad horizon of technical and pedagogical knowledge relating to the potential of this technology in a learning context. Teachers, educators and pedagogical advisers will find there anchors to introduce or deepen VR as a tool facilitating the acquisition of skills and knowledge.

We are in 2019-2020. Innovation, in the broad sense, is present in all spheres of society and dictates our daily life in many ways. Technological advances make it possible to redefine the world in which we operate and are therefore only limited by the imagination and creativity of society. Man in space, robots on Mars, 3D printing of human organs, artificial intelligence, autonomous cars, virtual and augmented reality… All this would not be possible without the skills and knowledge of visionaries serving a better world. Because yes, technological innovations must accelerate our quest for a healthier, more ethical and more human Earth. 

In the 21st century, we need more empathy, to stage more thought-provoking emotional experiences, and to take part in more meaningful learning contexts. This is exactly where virtual reality comes into play, from a more humanistic perspective than one might think.

The following file therefore presents the ins and outs of VR used in a concrete educational process and which focuses on the development of various skills, knowledge and aptitudes in the context of primary and secondary education.

Table of contents of the file


Presentation and origins of virtual reality

Defining virtual reality

According to'Office québécois de la langue française (OQLF), virtual reality is "a technology allowing an interactive and real-time simulation of reality, by computer creation, using synthetic images, of a virtual 3D environment in which we can evolve, and giving the feeling of immersion in a real world ”. It is mainly found today in medicine, robotics, education, architecture, tourism, art and entertainment.

It is an immersive experience that can appeal to the different senses of the human being (vision, hearing, touch, smell and taste). Indeed, as also explained by the OQLF in its definition, virtual reality helmets or glasses, depending on their technological complexity, can be fitted with position and movement sensors, making it possible to see images in relief (by stereoscopy). ), emit 3D sound, allow you to touch and manipulate virtual objects and even explore an interactive three-dimensional world!

Sure Wikipedia, we put forward that "the expression virtual reality (or immersive multimedia or computer simulated reality) typically refers to a computer technology that simulates the physical presence of a user in an environment artificially generated by software, environment with which the user can interact with ”.

For the site Futura-Sciences, VR “is a technology that allows a person to be immersed in an artificial world created digitally. It can be a reproduction of the real world or a totally imaginary universe. The experience is at the same time visual, auditory and, in some cases, haptic with the production of a feedback of effects ”.

We therefore retain that virtual reality can range from the “simple” simulation of an object to a complete and interactive immersive artificial environment, in which we enter thanks to a device which is similar to a helmet or glasses. 

Virtual reality over the years

Although the education community has only been familiar with virtual reality since around 2016, this technology is much older than one might think. In fact, at the start of the 1960s, filmmaker Morton Heilig invented the Sensorama. Wanting to be an individual immersive cinema, this mechanism made it possible to present 5 short films while appealing to the different senses using fans, smells and a vibrating seat.

Source: Wikipedia

Then, in 1968, comes the appearance of the first virtual reality headset strictly speaking. The Ultimate Display HMD was very heavy and required a mechanical arm to be held, thus preventing any user movement.

Source: Dave pope

In the 1980s, the US military and NASA saw the potential of this technology and created VR headsets to facilitate training and allow full immersion in real life.

Source: Wikipedia

The 1990s and 2000s saw several failed initiatives and some designers had to take a step back. It was not until 2012 that a new project succeeded in attracting the attention of consumers: the Oculus Rift represented an interesting technological breakthrough with its surprising graphic renderings and the use of a digital flat screen similar to that of a smart phone. And it is from 2014 that we witness a real effervescence in the offer of VR headsets with the Samsung Gear VR, HTC Vive and Playstation VR of this world. These products are therefore not necessarily accessible to everyone, given the still fairly high prices and their uses mainly targeting video games or a few very specific areas.

Source: Flickr

Then came the Google Cardboard

But when Google launched its Google Cardboard, a cardboard viewer where you slip a smartphone or iPod and which sells for a low price, the supply of VR headsets literally exploded and so did a lot of companies. were able to draw inspiration from this giant to offer their own device at low cost. It is therefore since 2016 that VR has entered schools for good, thanks to the democratization of this technology started by Google and following the competitive offer of several headsets at more or less 20 $. A visit to Amazon will convince you of the variety of helmets available at low cost!

Source: Wikimedia commons

All that was missing were a few applications (those from Google, among others) and a varied range of videos shot in 360 degrees on YouTube to make VR a tool for learning a lot and accelerating the development of many skills.


The distinction between virtual and augmented reality

TheOQLF (2017) defines augmented reality (AR) as follows: 

“An interactive technology consisting in superimposing in real time virtual images, or additional information, on images from the real world, from a viewing device. "

Visualization devices can be similar to those used for virtual reality, but less immersive devices such as the screen of a smartphone or an electronic tablet are also added. Also, depending on the device used, the information which “increases” the reality will be displayed directly in front of the user's eyes (visual field in a helmet or a glasses, for example) or superimposed on a scene of life. actual observed on the screen. Think for example of the famous game Pokémon Go, which has literally propelled the popularity of AR with its little monsters appearing in your living room!

Augmented reality finds many utility applications, as the OQLF also reminds us, in decision support, assistance and guidance, for fields as varied as medicine, architecture, tourism and museology.

Taking the above into account, therefore, the main distinction between VR and AR would be reality itself. Indeed, on the one hand, VR plunges us into an interactive 3D and completely virtual environment, created by computer or not. On the other hand, AR makes use of the user's real environment and adds virtual elements to it to enrich it, embellish it, in short, increase it.

The Pokémon Go phenomenon

The application Pokémon Go, in AR, has literally allowed this technology to become known around the world. Exceeding 800 million downloads in 2018, this game that allows you to capture Pokémon all over the world has created a real commotion on the techno planet by bringing up to date this saga that conquered a whole generation a few years earlier. The game allowed several other developers, this time with a more educational approach, to promote their applications. 

Source: Wikipedia

In short, AR, like VR, is used in a school context and allows, depending on the intention, to redefine teaching. In this regard, consult this other dossier from École branchée and Carrefour education dedicated to augmented reality which details the contribution of this technology to education.

A growing market

AR and VR are experiencing meteoric rise in video games, live events, and entertainment. From 2017 to 2021, the growth rate of these technologies is estimated at 98 % and their value could reach 215 billion dollars in the global market. These figures will certainly continue to grow thanks, in particular, to various sectors which see more and more the benefits of using these tools such as education, real estate, health, logistics and distribution, defense and l 'engineering.


Virtual reality at the service of the 21 schoole century

What does the research say?

At the time of this dossier, very few scientific studies concerning VR in schools were still in the publication stage.

As VR has only been democratized in schools for three years and it may take more than three years for a full study to come out, it is only fitting that little data is available at this time.

In the same vein, a researcher from the University of Montreal, Normand Roy, will soon begin an action research with three groups of students from first to fifth year of secondary school who will be put into action for three years using different technologies, and this, in three distinct areas of learning (ERC, social universe and sciences). The objective is to observe and measure the motivation, the commitment, the potential and the learning linked to the learning situations that will be experienced in different technological contexts.

In the meantime, despite a good number of case studies and testimonials from teachers and educational advisers, we do not have any real comparative quotes that would confirm or deny the promises of virtual reality.

That being said, school experiments are going well and more and more initiatives are showing many advantages to using virtual reality as a support for learning.

It is only a matter of time before there is evidence to support the steps already taken by teachers who have begun to take advantage of a technology that opens up a new world of possibilities.

Virtual reality promises

All these possibilities therefore make it possible to bring down the walls of the classroom and provide multiple opportunities for learners to develop skills; in disciplinary fields, on the one hand, and with digital technology, on the other. We will see, in the next section, that as much the social universe, sciences, ethics and religious culture (ERC), languages and mathematics can benefit from VR, while facilitating the development of digital competence through one or more of its dimensions. Because the school of 21e century is active, responsible, connected, critical and ethical, virtual reality serves a ton of factors that can influence learners to become better citizens in the digital age.

Here are some of the hypotheses in this direction, inspired by Boudreau, 2018

  • VR makes it possible to stage emotional experiences aimed at reflective learning (example: experiencing a natural disaster in VR and then reflecting on the many impacts that result from it);
  • VR increases motivation (active learners, engaged in the task, more inclined to achieve the educational intention);
  • VR develops empathy (example: students who put themselves "in the shoes" of Syrian refugees using a VR application were more empathetic than others who viewed the same content on a medium more traditional);
  • VR allows immersion and experimentation in real or simulated intervention or exploration situations that are difficult to experience in reality (example: visit to historic places in various countries or to more dangerous places such as an ocean filled with sharks);
  • VR facilitates learning and reflection on interconnected elements in space (promotes learning through manipulation, by practicing movements);
  • VR promotes similarity between the learning context and the practice context and therefore suggests a better transfer (the simulation of real places or objects allows better retention of information than on a screen or a sheet).

In summary, VR would allow an increase in motivation, commitment, emotional impact, spatial understanding, memorization of elements, retention of information and physical learning requiring practice. .

Actors for inspiration

In view of the above and as a complement, we invite you to listen these École branchée educational meetings which deal with virtual reality in a learning context:

  • Alexandre chenette, educational advisor at the RÉCIT national personal development service, who talks about the educational potential of virtual reality in the classroom;
  • Dominic guay, teacher of 5e year at the Pioneer School, which presents the virtual reality projects carried out by its students using Google Expeditions;
  • Chantal Rivard, who was an educational advisor at Collège Beaubois and lecturer at the University of Montreal in didactics of the social universe at the time of the interview, who mentioned several avenues of educational exploitation of VR;
  • Claude frenette, who was an educational advisor at RÉCIT for private education at the time of the interview, talks about the importance of putting students in the context of creation and not just of consumption of VR and AR.

Concrete uses of VR in an educational context

The elementary and secondary courses offer many possibilities for using virtual reality, guided by various educational intentions. This section will therefore present avenues for using VR in the social world, in ethics and religious culture (ERC) and in French as the language of instruction. In addition to these ideas, we can browse the STORY Campus. This platform aims to be a self-study directory helping teachers in the integration of digital in the classroom. Several complete educational scenarios are offered and take advantage of virtual reality as a learning tool.

Furthermore, educational guides SCOOP! of L'École branchée (on subscription) offer several activities involving VR as a learning accelerator. All you have to do is do a search with the keywords "virtual reality" and you will find a good number of topical subjects that can be further explored using this technology.

A few tracks in elementary school

In social universe, all three skills can be developed using VR. 360-degree photos or videos as well as 3D models can be presented through a viewer (for example, the Google Cardboard), a smartphone (or iPod) and applications such as those contained in the “Google Geo” suite (Street View, Expeditions, Earth, Tour Creator) or directly on YouTube. VR therefore makes it possible to visit historic or inaccessible places, to experience significant events or to become aware of different arrangements.

Concretely, to develop the competence "Interpret the change in a society and on its territory", one could compare the societies of 1900 and 1980 by using, on the one hand, photos of yesteryear and, on the other hand, of VR to explore the same places, but in our time. The pupils would therefore have to associate the old images with those in 360 degrees and to indicate the elements of continuity or change in each of them.

To make a connection with current events and discuss Nunavut which joined the Canadian Confederation for 20 years, we can make visit this native territory to the students in VR. Using this 360 degree video on YouTube or Google Earth, students will dive into a universe they don't have the chance to see very often. Pay attention to the landscapes, the houses, the vegetation. In the progression of learning, the elements "Territorial organization", "Territorial issue" and "Geographical reality of a planetary order" of an indigenous territory are targeted. Once the exploration is over, have the students question how the Inuit have adapted to their territory and what marks of appropriation the learners may have noticed. You can even compare the capital, Iqaluit, with another well-known capital (Quebec City, for example) to highlight the differences between these two realities.

VR in a social universe allows to internalize the understanding of a distant reality and to reduce the distance between the learner and the subject of study.

The teacher can decide to put the students in creation with virtual reality, thanks in particular to the application Creator Tower. He can ask them to design a virtual tour of a museum, a place or a historic building. The images could be taken on site as well as online. Each of the groups of students will have to build a visit for the others in the class. 

In science and technology, VR can be used to live an immersive experience in the heart of a natural phenomenon (such as a tornado) to describe its characteristics (3e elementary cycle, transformation of matter, describe certain natural phenomena). Thanks to this 3D modeling video on YouTube, learners will witness the arrival of a tornado and go through the full range of emotions associated with it. In addition to theoretical learning on this natural phenomenon, students will have a reflective process to put forward following the emotions they feel.

They will then be able to develop more empathy towards those who have suffered these disasters and be more aware of the risks associated with this kind of destructive phenomenon.

Some ideas in secondary

In ethics and religious culture (ERC), several ethical questions can be considered by using virtual reality in order in particular to develop empathy in learners. Using 360 degree videos available on YouTube focusing on pollution and climate change, the theme "the future of humanity" can easily be tackled. Discussions on the challenges to be met at the 21e century and on the ways of seeing humanity will thus be put forward. The concept of "social order" can also be deepened through VR. For example, we could make learners live a moment in the midst of the bombardments in Aleppo, at the heart of the Syrian conflict.

In short, virtual reality in ERC makes it possible to minimize the distance between the object and the subject and to bring to life emotional contexts at the 1st person, while aiming for reflective learning.

In French, VR can also be at the service of learning insofar as it can contribute to the literary experience of the pupils. Indeed, the writing of an adventure story can go through the creation of a universe in virtual reality. The author can then, for example, use Street View to create 360-degree photos that represent the environment in which his characters evolve and integrate them using a QR code into his story. The creation of virtual universes modeled in 3D is also possible with CoSpaces EDU. This platform allows the design of interactive experiences that can be used for total immersion in the adventure story. Indeed, the pupil can recreate important scenes of his story in 3D and thus give the reader the possibility of being in complete symbiosis with the hero. The reader (with his VR headset) can move around in the virtual environment and even interact with the characters who are modeled there. Here is also a tutorial which guides step by step in the development of interactive 3D experiences on CoSpaces Edu. Furthermore, Carrefour Education offers educational avenues for the tool.   

VR allows the writer to tell his story more effectively, with a better feeling. The reader, for his part, can visit the places in VR to better anticipate or better understand the actions of the character. He will be able to put himself in the hero's shoes and experience more emotions. Consult this learning situation developed by the RÉCIT which gives all the details of carrying out a creative writing activity facilitated by VR.

The adventure stories are constructed so that the numerous descriptions (environment, characters, etc.) support the reader's understanding and imagination. VR then becomes a very powerful tool for seeing and feeling the adventures of the hero with whom we like to identify.

To find more ideas or to share virtual reality experiences in all fields (French, art, science, ECR, sciences, etc.), Marie-Eve Lapolice created this collaborative document.


Virtual reality issues and final word

Go beyond the "wow" effect

Virtual reality is still a very recent tool in schools and the experience it gives its users is something to impress and entertain. It's easy to get carried away by the videos that take you on a gigantic roller coaster or those showing a horde of hungry zombies chasing the viewer. This kind of video can be used in the exploration phase of the tool without any problem (you can even play Where is Charlie?). But you have to be able, as a teacher, to demonstrate to the pupils how to overcome this “wow” effect fairly quickly by explaining to them specific learning intentions.

It is essential to always put technology at the service of pedagogy, and not the other way around.

As mentioned previously, many learnings can be facilitated or redefined thanks to virtual reality. Starting from a clear vision of the Quebec school training program, it will be easier to think about the educational goals and thus build a scenario supported by the appropriate technological tools.

It's only a beginning

Over the past three years, more and more virtual reality initiatives have emerged in Quebec schools. Some teachers and educational advisers therefore offer learning situations using VR as an educational tool, facilitator of skills and knowledge acquisition. Virtual reality is currently in full development and is being democratized, little by little, by dint of initiatives and accessible tools.

Google has captured a huge share of the education market. Its applications enabling VR as Earth, Street View, Expeditions or Creator Tower occupy a prominent place in almost all educational scenarios. Why? For lack of competition, on the one hand, but it is above all that these tools are widely used for their intuitive handling and their free use.

Apart from the popular Google tools, here are some other applications that should be discovered and considered in a teaching context:

Other applications are also available on the Carrefour Éducation website, in particular in this listing

Possible limits

From a technological standpoint, inexpensive viewers are obviously not the ones that provide the best performance. A blurry or insufficiently fine image will cause too many eye blinks and headaches if the exposure is prolonged. To avoid these bad arrangements, more powerful and necessarily more expensive equipment should be considered.

The Wi-Fi network must also be robust enough to support simultaneous viewing of VR content on multiple devices. Sometimes, the addition of a wireless terminal is necessary in the room where virtual reality is used.

In addition to viewers, learners need mobile devices (smartphones, iPods) that are able to support the various VR applications. A lot of imagination can sometimes be necessary to procure a set of phones for your group of students. The AVAN approach (bring / learn with your digital device), in which students bring their own smart device to school, can facilitate this step.

In short, technical challenges sometimes hamper the educational ambitions of teachers. As each environment has its own characteristics, it is important to have the support of management and the help of an educational advisor to put all the chances on your side in the realization of a learning project using reality. Virtual. Having a computer technician available every now and then to answer questions can't hurt either!

Last word

Because we are at 21e century and that students need more empathy, to take part in more thought-provoking emotional experiences and to be active in more meaningful learning contexts ...

Because virtual reality would increase motivation, commitment, emotional impact, spatial understanding, memorization of elements, retention of information and physical learning ...

Because virtual reality is an innovative educational tool, facilitating the acquisition of skills and knowledge in schools ...

Because virtual reality breaks down borders and offers a world of learning opportunities for students ...


PS Reading this file was a step in the right direction!

Source: Flickr

Translated by : @fbocquet


More about the magazine

List of applications on virtual reality
Carrefour education, April 15, 2019

How virtual reality is transforming education, January 17, 2018

Dossier: virtual and augmented reality
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Finally! Virtual reality at (more) low price!
Le journal de Québec, March 22, 2019

Virtual reality, the future of education?
Le journal de Montréal, June 5, 2018

Virtual reality in the classroom: what educational possibilities for college students?
Profweb, September 26, 2018

Virtual reality at the service of the literary experience
STORY, February 5, 2019

Virtual reality in education, where are we?
Prof Power, April 8, 2018

Virtual reality in training: when helmets line up
University of Sherbrooke, October 2017

Virtual, mixed and augmented reality - educational challenges and potential
APOP, October 24, 2018

Virtual reality in the classroom - collaborative document
Marie-Ève Lapolice, May 26, 2019



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Maxime Laflamme is an educational advisor and project manager at École branchée. He is also editor-in-chief of the SCOOP! Educational guides. He has a bachelor's degree in preschool education and elementary education from the University of Sherbrooke and is pursuing a graduate degree in school management at Laval University. He transmits his passion for digital education and innovative practices through CréaCamps, conferences and workshops throughout the French-speaking world.