Teachers call it “gamed learning” – an in-class lesson that feels like playing a video game.
- The Endeavor Foundation worked alongside teachers and students to design and create this technology
- Students with disabilities and students of all abilities can use the virtual reality program
- The program helps students learn real-life skills in a safe space
Pupils at a school in Queensland’s Western Downs have embraced it as virtual reality (VR) educational technology designed to encourage more young people to pursue agricultural careers.
The moment the kids at Dalby State High School’s Bunya campus slip on a set of VR goggles and pick up the controller, it looks like they’re right there in the yard moving cattle from pen to pen. another – or behind the wheel of a huge tractor ready to drive out of the shed.
The Endeavor Foundation has worked alongside teachers and students to design and create this cutting-edge technology to give students, with or without disabilities, a feel for livestock handling and large-area farming.
A safe way to learn about agriculture
Student Erin Taylor thinks VR technology offers a safe way to learn about the industry.
“People can be scared and not know what to do, so I think it’s a really good experience to go in there but not go in there,” she said.
Through a partnership with Arrow Energy, Endeavor Foundation began developing virtual reality programs to help prepare students with disabilities for life after school.
In 2020 he approached Dalby State High School to pilot some of these programs, which are now in 30 schools across Queensland.
The school realized that with 42 percent of the national feedlot occupancy within a 200 kilometer radius of Dalby, there was a huge opportunity for students to find work in this industry.
But many young students were afraid to work with cattle.
So the school contacted Endeavor to see if VR technology could be a solution.
Endeavor Service Design Partner Chris Beaumont worked with a number of older Dalby State High School students to bring the VR Ag program to life.
“We came here and filmed many students doing daily practices that go into their agriculture certificate, with a focus on safety,” he said.
According to Mr. Beaumont, learning to drive a tractor is a great example of the benefits of this virtual reality program.
“We can put it into a virtual scenario first to keep everyone safe,” he said.
“We show them what they need to do before they’re actually ready to go do it on the farm.”
As with previous programs, Endeavor designed the VR Ag program for students with disabilities, but quickly discovered that it offered value for students of all abilities.
The managing director of Endeavour’s community solutions group, Tom Mangen, said he uses a universal learning method.
“One of the central characteristics of learning is repeated learning and virtual reality offers the possibility of doing this in a very safe environment,” he said.
Virtual reality offers safe scenarios
Mr Beaumont agrees that the path to employment is harder for people with disabilities, but VR technology can make it easier with the added benefit that it doesn’t feel like learn.
“We just know that kids, with or without disabilities, are all part of this generation of players,” he said.
“We see kids doing our learning scenarios, but they think they’re playing a game, so they really engage with it.”
But for students with disabilities, the new program was more than just a fun way to learn.
Anne Rathmell, a teacher at Dalby State High School, says safety is paramount because the Bunya campus student classroom is a 1,000-acre farm and VR Ag is an incredibly safe way for students to get a taste of work agricultural.
“Virtual reality provides multiple opportunities for students to practice a skill,” she said.
“Whereas, whether they’re in the yards, on a tractor or in a real situation, they have to get it right the first time.”
After spending time playing with the new program, student Dechlan Green was impressed with both its educational value as well as his performance and that of his classmate.
“I was quite skeptical at first how it would turn out because we had to do a lot of takes,” he said.
“But seeing the final product, I feel like it was time well spent and a good investment for high school.”
VR popular with students
From a user perspective, Dechlan thinks it’s the perfect way for students to get comfortable with working on a farm before trying it out for real.
“I notice a significant difference in how I can see different aspects of a workplace in a safer environment if I wasn’t comfortable,” he said.
“Everyone can enjoy it.”
Fellow student Charlie Dudgeon says it was great that seeing him and the other students thrive in an environment they felt at home in would help younger students feel the same way.
“I think it’s a great idea for young kids considering joining the Ag program, but they’re a little skeptical,” he said.
“They can just throw one out and say, ‘Yeah, I like this program. I think I’ll join him when I’m in grades 11 and 12. So I think it’s a great idea.