Virtual Reality is making its way into US Classrooms. Lyfta, a Finnish-British virtual reality company that we selected to be a part of our 100 Inspiring Innovations in Education 2018, is being piloted in North Carolina schools as part of a new study. Lyfta’s virtual reality experiences address identity, cultural awareness and global interconnectedness, and have been designed to be used in the classroom to help kids explore these huge issues.
This is the first time Lyfta is being piloted in the United States. The study is being conducted by Drs. Elizabeth O. Crawford and Heidi Higgins, Associate Professors in Elementary Education at the University of North Carolina Wilmington, in order to learn about teachers’ perceived opportunities and challenges for teaching about identity, cultural diversity, and global interconnectedness in the classroom, including through immersive storytelling as Lyfta affords. Hopefully this research will in turn lead to better preparation of global educators and improve how teachers can support other less experienced teachers.
Virtual realities present a new opportunity to learn the vital skills which schools are starting to focus on such as empathy, identity and cultural awareness. Lyfta has been specifically developed for these purposes and to be used in education.
All those involved in the pilot were treated to talks and presentations by Lyfta’s Head of Education, Katri Meriläinen. Meriläinen, a middle and high school teacher and an education specialist from Finland, has worked as a teacher and educator in Finland and Eritrea, designed various educational materials, and specializes in educational psychology and ICT in education. Having studied school systems in European and African countries, Katri believes that schools, globally, can greatly benefit from tools for teaching empathy and understanding.
During her presentation, teachers and educators were transported to Ethiopia and to the Finnish National Opera in Helsinki, whilst Meriläinen explained how Lyfta can help children explore and learn about the world. Lyfta aspires to have stories from people from every country in the world so that children can learn about every kind of culture different from theirs and to realise that they have something in common with everyone too.
The pilot is well underway and so far teachers are loving it! As Dorian Barnes, 5th grade teacher at Murrayville Elementary School, says, ‘This is an amazing idea. Lyfta empowers students to be empathetic and understanding of the world around us.’
Amy Connell, 1st grade teacher at Winter Park Elementary Wilmington, NC, agrees, ‘(Lyfta is) an exciting way to introduce our students to others around the world and discuss similarities/differences. Very exciting!’
Even Montessori schools, which usually prefer to find alternative paths to technology, are impressed with Lyfta’s potential for learning. ‘Virtual reality provides new beautiful environments.’ says Lara Hamlet, Curriculum Coordinator at Island Montessori School in Wilmington, NC. ‘In Montessori, great importance is placed on the beauty of the environment and the learning opportunities placed within it. Each lesson or item placed on our shelves in the environment is packaged and organized for beauty - as a gift. We are interested in how virtual reality will be an additional gift and add beauty to the classroom – Beauty in enjoying culture and diversity, the gift of global connection, and the beautiful environments that bring wonder to the world we share and learn in together.’
‘At the root of all our lessons is peace education and building relationships with our communities: local, regional, and global. Finding a concrete global connection is often difficult, and bringing authentic and engaging cultural opportunities is equally challenging. Lyfta brings the world to our Montessori classrooms.’ continues Hamlet.
Island Montessori School hopes Lyfta will enable students to ‘see new cultures and ideas through a different lens - being able to not look into these cultures for differences, but for similarities.’ A crucial skill in a world that is being divided by hate speech and polarizing political opinions.
The pilot is currently scheduled to be active throughout the Summer term from March to May of this year, with the hopes that it will be extended into the next academic year of 2018/2019.
You can find out more about Lyfta’s incredible work here. We’ll be keeping in touch with pilot organizers Crawford and Higgins – so stay tuned for future updates on how it’s going by subscribing to our newsletter!
Crawford and Higgins are both teacher educators, with Crawford specializing in social studies methods, global education, and curriculum design and Higgins, mathematics education. They both share a commitment to international education and global collaboration. They are the first to pilot Lyfta in the United States.