Teacher’s virtual reality platform aims to improve student engagement
SchooVR is used by over 100 teachers in Ireland and UK, says creator Mark Baldwin
Today’s kids are so immersed in the vivid world of digital imagery that book learning can seem pretty dull by comparison. Keen to keep his students alert, post-primary teacher Mark Baldwin tried a little sorcery of his own and introduced virtual reality (VR) into the classroom.
The youngsters perked up immediately and it was their reaction coupled with a paucity of relevant digital content that encouraged Baldwin to develop SchooVR, an educational platform providing curriculum aligned virtual experiences in the classroom.
“SchooVR is highly interactive and puts students directly into the environment they are learning about. For example, the limestone landscape of the Burren,” says Baldwin. “By being immersed in the interactive textures and landscapes in a digitally familiar manner, student engagement and ultimately interest is heightened, promoting a ‘learning by doing’ attitude. When students are able to interact, learning becomes easier and more enjoyable.
“I had witnessed disengagement at first hand in the classroom mainly because students didn’t feel involved in what they were learning about. However, that changed significantly with the VR demonstration,” Baldwin adds. “The edtech space is really exciting, but tools for teachers are largely designed by software developers who lack educational experience. Using my UK and Irish teaching experience I have been able to ensure that SchooVR is education led, curriculum based and supports a variety of different learning styles.”
Baldwin is a history and geography graduate from Maynooth University with an MA in history and a post-graduate diploma in education from NUIG. SchooVR was formally established in August of last year and Baldwin has recently completed the New Frontiers programme at the Synergy Centre at IT Tallaght. The company has two full-time staff and will add three more during 2019.
“In my experience students tend to lose interest when they are forced to read for long periods of time. Today’s ‘digital natives’ need more than words on a page and by creating memorable educational experiences they are more likely to remember course material,” Baldwin says. “SchooVR is not trying to replace traditional textbooks but rather to work with them by providing a platform that delivers the same high-quality curriculum-based content in a manner that is visually engaging and empowering for students.”
SchooVR’s launch subject is junior cycle geography and more subjects will be added in the coming months. The company soft launched last September and is targeting progressive schools looking for new ways to bring the curriculum to life for their students. Content can be accessed from any smart device and it is up to individual schools whether they want to enhance the experience with VR headsets for students. Baldwin had not originally intended to sell hardware, but he is now supplying the headsets as schools wanted a complete package. He also says the headsets go down a storm with kids who view them as cool.
“We currently have over 100 teachers and 60 schools from Ireland and the UK using our content on a pilot basis and Fingal Community College in Swords is the showcase school for our platform,” says Baldwin. “Short term we will sell directly to schools – our revenue model is a licence fee – but ultimately our aim will involve licensing our platform to large edtech companies. We are currently using the Irish market to validate the platform before moving into the UK and international market.”
Investment in the business to date is upwards of €50,000 with support coming from Meath LEO and New Frontiers. The company is currently using Twitter to promote itself and recently raised €50,000 to develop more subjects for the home market. The next step is translation into Irish. “How children learn is undoubtedly changing largely because technology is enabling a more active approach to teaching and learning. It is definitely the way of the future and SchooVR intends to be part of it,” Baldwin says.