How to manage a VR classroom in AltspaceVR or Mozilla Hubbs. Part 4 of a series on Teaching in VR.
Updated 4/16/20 to explain screen share ~SK
One student is standing on the table. Another student is writing with markers on the wall while another is playing with a laser pointer. If I were in an in-person classroom, this would seem chaotic, but in VR, this is typical and helpful learning behavior.
In a traditional 30-student, in-person college class, students gravitate to their favorite and familiar seats. They intuitively know to raise their hands to ask a question, and they also know how to engage with the professor through non-verbal cues. They even know how to dialogue passionately without talking over each other.
But in a VR classroom, the students don’t have 13+ years of previous experience learning and communing in this environment. This virtual space is a different experience for the students and the teacher. It is also different than a video-based classroom as space and spacial audio play a significant factor in facilitating learning. Because of these differences, the class needs to be managed differently.
Technology enhancements and limitations
Flow and style of class
Student physical limitations.
(To read about hardware view this post)
I chose Mozilla Hubs and AltspaceVR for the 3D classroom, and you can read about that decision here. Weekly we are gathering in Altspace3D, but some students like the browser-based Hubs for small group meetings. I will explain how I worked in both below.
For the first class in Hubs, I scheduled them to arrive ten at a time, and I repeated this initial class lecture three times. Breaking them up enabled me to work through any technical problems with each student and let the students get comfortable with the technology so they could feel comfortable in the 3D space.
Each group of 10 had two or three that had issues with either teleporting, speaker/microphone, or a bad network connection. I kept the slack channel open outside of VR so I could communicate with anyone having trouble. In about 10 minutes or so, I had everyone ready to learn.
I then walked them through how to teleport, sharing their screen, adding objects, and explained spatial audio. Once everyone played around in the space, we started the lecture.
Students learned started using emojis during the talk, and it was great to have that feedback.
To help the students prepare for class. I gave the students an assignment to be completed before the first class hosted in AltspaceVR. I asked every student to signup for an account, go through the tutorial in their home space, and to go to the InfoZone, which is a tutorial in the form of a social fair about going to events. The final step of the assignment was to send me a friend request. I also recorded a video on how to enter the room/event.
How-To Video for students entering Group and Event
This assignment was critical to the success of the next class. I needed the students to work through any technical issues on their own and to feel confident in another social VR environment.
Once I got a friend request, I added them to the group so they could see the private event. (Read here to learn how to add people to a group)
For the first class, I made a private group event to start 15 minutes prior and 15 minutes after the scheduled class time.
Most students arrived early and were ready to go. I let them spend several minutes interacting and exploring the space. There was lots of personal chatting like I would see before an in-person class, which has been absent in my Zoom class.
Presenting in Altspace
In Hubs, it is easy to share your screen and to make the screen big enough for all to see, but in AltspaceVR, it is quite different. You can do a screen share, but it is a little tricky and dependent on bandwidth and device processing for every user. I tested video and screen share on the Oculus Go, which is the device my students have, and it was very choppy and not watchable. (Thanks for the clarification Lorelle#1596 from https://educatorsinvr.com/)
You can open a web browser to show your slides, which is what I do for every class.
Before the class event starts, I go to the 3D browser in the room and enter the shortened URL to my classroom/learning management site (Sakai, Blackboard, Canvas, etc.) to the day’s module. On that page, I have already linked to my slides.com presentation.
By using slides.com in presentation mode, I can control my slides from another browser window or through my mobile device. Here are the steps to manage your slides in Altspace.
-Create an account on Slide.com
-Create or upload your slides
-Click Present and get the live presentation URL. This URL is the link you will enter into the AltspaceVR browser or, in my case, into the LMS page that will be displayed in the AltspaceVR browser.
If you want to control via your phone, send an SMS code to your phone number or
-Click Present and manage it from that browser.
-Then when you are in Altspace, set the screen to display the Live Presentation URL, and whenever you change anything in your presentation browser, it changes it in AltspaceVR.
Teaching or Presenting in VR
From the Host Tools menu, use the megaphone so everyone can hear you and make sure you add the megaphone if someone else is presenting.
One thing to think about when teaching VR is that it is not easy to see your notes or pull up a video or something that comes up in the class. I make a point to try and think through everything in a much more intentional way to ensure I include everything in the slides. I outline every item of the class in the slide, including the discussion questions I plan to ask. Here is an example from a previous class.
Small groups work well when there is ample space. I broke the class up into groups of 4–5 and had them space-out around the room. As the professor, I would walk around the room and engage with the different groups, but make sure to turn my megaphone off.
Then I tend to announce a 2-minute working with the megaphone, and then when it is time to gather, I use the microphone and, if needed, use the announcement text chat feature to message the entire room.
I do not recommend using the text announcement too often as it is very obtrusive to everyone in the room, and it breaks conversation, but in this case, it is time to break the conversation.
Guest and Student Presenters
I have students come forward to make presentations and to lead a Q&A on Emerging Technology. These presentations have gone well, and we have seen just as engaged questions as in the in-person class. Make sure to enable the megaphone for them using the host tools.
There are a lot more things to consider when presenting or teaching in a VR class than in-person or video conferencing. Still, with careful planning and practice, it can go smoothly and give the students a learning experience in the community.