VR insights from educational institutions
What training do you most want?
Since May 2021, Bodyswaps has been working with a select group of partner organisations to pilot our Job Interview Simulator. The user-experience data they generated has been invaluable in the improvement of our product. The latest version of the Job Interview Simulator (due for release in the coming weeks) incorporates several exciting new features as a direct result of their feedback.
As forward-looking and intrepid adopters of new and emerging technology, we wanted to do something to bring these partners together to create a community of collaborators so that they could share their insights and experiences not only with us, but also with one another. And so, this month, we hosted the first of what we hope will become a series of co-creation workshops.
We know that educational institutions often face significant challenges in sourcing and procuring the best resources for their needs. So our goal for this first workshop was to work with our partners to identify what those needs might be and use this knowledge to inform our content roadmap so that we can create simulations that will bring them the most value in the future.
About our partner organisations
Our partners represent a broad range of organisations, including FE and HE colleges and universities, a not-for-profit youth centre, a training provider and a VR reseller.
Partners’ students are similarly diverse, ranging in age from 10 to 25 years, but the majority are 16-18 year old FE students preparing to enter the workforce for the first time.
Two of the partners work with young people from deprived and socially excluded groups. For these participants, VR presents an opportunity for their students to access new working environments and real-world experiences that more privileged peers may take for granted, helping them build confidence before going into the real thing.
Commitment to VR
Feedback shows that Virtual Reality (VR) is a very promising, innovative and educationally-enriching advancement in learn-tech for young people. One participant noted “Instant positive feedback from students - they see the use right away as soon as they try it.”
In the workshop, VR was described as a ‘“transformational tool for student confidence and employability skills.” Partners found their students to be motivated by VR, with even normally disengaged, disinterested students finding it highly engaging.
Our partners want to use the technology to take their teaching to another level - away from traditional desk-based teaching. Offering currently uninspired learners a more engaging and interesting education will help them be excited to learn new things and look forward to their next session.
Partners’ content requirements
Our partners confirmed our belief that institutions often find themselves at a loss for suitable content and added to this that schools’ regulatory burden for creating new training may keep them from responding quickly to employer workforce demands, leading employers to turn to other suppliers (such as mthree) to ‘finish’ students’ education.
Our partner organisations do see soft skills as an important part of students’ development and see value in the use of VR to simulate workplace experiences and environments. “Education can’t just be going to school,” was a sentiment shared by many. But it may be more of a hard sell to the students themselves, who can be skeptical about the benefits of soft skills training if it isn’t mandatory or doesn’t impact their grades.
Key soft-skills and experiences identified by our partners that will help students to succeed in the workplace include:
- Identifying and understanding own soft skills training needs
- Social skills (listening, speaking, eye contact, body language)
- Teamwork and collaboration
- Cultural intelligence, empathy and perspective taking
- Good citizen (bullying, consent, sexual harassment/assault, becoming an ally)
- Difficult conversations and challenging others effectively
- Remote working skills (networking, time management, web conferencing)
- Networking skills
- Self advocacy (speaking about self, being taken seriously, sharing ideas)
- Overcoming systemic barriers to success (gender, PoC, neuro-diverse)
- Effective communication (emotional intelligence, active listening, giving and receiving feedback)
- Career pathway appreciation (humble beginnings, earning promotion, working with people in more senior positions)
- Personal leadership (self-belief, resilience, ownership)
- 21st century skills (empathy, collaboration)
- Giving and receiving feedback
- Creativity (curiosity, initiative, adaptability)
- Critical thinking (ideation, reasoning, problem solving)
- Growth mindset (self-belief, agency, embracing failure, dealing with criticism)
- Customer experience/service
Our next goal is to work with our partners to prioritise these skill sets to find out which will benefit the widest audience. The top five will form the basis of our content roadmap for the coming year.
In addition, partners also expressed an interest in specific solutions for:
- Technical and professional skills for specific job roles (unspecified)
- Preparing for technical interviews (e.g. programmers)
- Reskilling and upskilling to stay relevant in the workforce
- Workforce training for military veterans
While these are unlikely to form part of our content roadmap, we intend to explore ways that existing simulations could potentially be customised to provide an affordable solution to these needs.
Access and funding
Several participants already have access to a number of VR headsets. Finance for hardware seems readily available for most, with ring fenced government funding and budget already set aside for XR, although digital poverty was raised as a limitation by one participant.
Others cited a strategic push for employability soft skills, with huge demand for young people with particular skill sets, so finance is likely to be available for the training in the right competencies. However, while it is relatively easy to get funding for training resources, it’s much more difficult to get expenditure for recurring costs like license fees or ongoing operational costs.
Participants also felt that there was a ‘technology-first’ approach to investment, with little guidance and investment expertise concerning which hardware to buy. For example, some participants’ institutions had bought Oculus Quest 2s, but Facebook’s mandatory requirement for social media accounts was a shared concern and there was also some uncertainty around whether commercial or business headsets were best for their needs.
Another symptom of this technology-first focus was poor allocation of funds to staff training. And as one participant rightly noted, with VR still very much a new addition to the educational toolkit, a large number of new VR users = a large amount of staff training.
Deployment of VR headsets was a particular challenge for many. After a prolonged reliance on technology for remote learning during lockdown, many staff and students are reporting digital fatigue. At some institutions, a reluctance among professors and tutors to embrace the technology had been observed. This was attributed to a lack of control over what students were doing or because tutors feared that the tech was being used to replace them.
Everyone agreed that Covid had made headset use more difficult, with the added need for diligent hygiene measures when sharing headsets. This, combined with social distancing, made it hard for participants to help learners get set up and troubleshoot any problems they might have. Some participants expressed frustration that decision makers often under-estimate how much support today’s ‘digital natives’ really need, without which many students could fail to access the resources altogether.
Despite this, most partners are finding it easier to facilitate learners now that students are returning to campus, although training for remote learners is still desirable for some. This raises deployment issues around loss or damage of hardware that is loaned out to students and also safeguarding concerns if students are able to use the hardware to access social apps (not Bodyswaps).
On-site training isn’t without its challenges, however. Bulk device management was time-consuming and tedious, but worthwhile because students who used VR headsets were much more engaged than those using the ipad app.
Still, learners often felt self-conscious speaking out loud during the VR simulations in classrooms and labs. Some participants are resolving this by giving students a private space in empty classrooms or even specially-constructed booths, away from other students.
How can Bodyswaps improve?
Beyond the content roadmap itself, partners also indicated a number of improvements that we could make to our products and services.
These can be grouped into four main areas:
- Teaching support
a. Allowing tutors to review and feedback on performance
b. Blended approach with other learning resources
c. Lesson plans and schemes of work for teachers and facilitators
d. Allowing students to get used to the novelty of VR before embarking on the key content.
a. More diverse avatars
b. More inclusive storylines
c. Solutions to accessibility issues
a. Localised values and cultural references
b. Sector-specific environments
c. Industry-specific contexts
d. Build tool to create your own simulations (some loved, some hated this idea)
- Bulk device management
What does success look like?
Another point raised during the workshop was that continued support for VR as a learning tool may rest on the ability to show a clear return on investment.
Possible measures of success included:
- Autonomous learners (current students and also recent graduates and alumni) who can identify needs and then access the training as and when they need it.
- Students learning new skills more quickly, with a faster time to competency, practising as much as they can before putting those skills to the test in real world situations.
- Higher post-college employment rates, with students landing a job quickly after graduation.
- Partner organisations being able to meet employer demands for particular skills and competencies.
Virtual Reality has the potential to offer students learning experiences like never before. Subject matter expertise, compelling and effective learning design and engaging and intuitive user experience are all essential for shaping the future of this emerging technology in a positive way. But as this first co-creation workshop has demonstrated, if VR is to fulfill its potential, it’s vital that we also engage with the practitioners at the coal face of education and respond to their needs in the design of our products and services.
If you’d like to request a demo of our Job Interview Simulator and discuss how we can help you boost your interview training, please complete this form.