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Immersive technology brings environmental excursions to Scranton’s classrooms : Educational Technology

What if you could skip the excursion and virtually transport yourself to any environment? For many, this may be a necessary reality given the COVID-19 pandemic, and Theresa Black, science lecturer at Penn State Scranton, is ahead of the curve.

“With a 360-degree video, you learn different ways to motivate your students,” said Black. “Last year I learned a lot about the different technologies that we can use, which was especially helpful when the campus was closed. I feel good enough to be able to use it again when we have a similar situation in the fall. “

In recent years, immersive technology has been an excellent teaching tool for faculties that can receive support from Media Commons, a Penn State technology teaching and learning service. Media Commons helps the faculty include 360-degree videos in their courses in a way that fits seamlessly into their current curriculum.

“Adding 360-degree video to a class can be transformative,” he said Media Commons Campus advisor Carla Seward. “It enables the faculty to provide experiences that their students may not otherwise have access to. The technology can help students see different parts of the world and explore different climates and cultures. There are almost no limits. “

In spring 2019, Black, inspired by the Biome in a Box project in Penn State Lehigh Valley, turned to Media Commons to discuss how to integrate 360-degree video into her Earth 111 Water: Science & Society course. Seward helped her get a 360-degree camera that Black mounted with a tripod and kayak to capture a wetland and various locations along the Lehigh River in eastern Pennsylvania. With Adobe Premiere Pro, Black edited her videos into one 10-minute tour of the Lehigh River and a 2.5-minute tour of a wetland.

To watch these videos, Black’s 30 students worked in pairs and booked 30-minute appointments in the Immersive Lab on the Scranton campus. Working in pairs helps visually impaired students, Black explained, and the availability of a video transcript helps hearing-impaired students. Students answered questions with short answers after being immersed in the wetland and Lehigh River using virtual reality headsets. The videos complemented her lessons on the differences between flowing water and standing water ecosystems, as well as the variations that occur when a stream flows from the spring water into the mouth.

Although the course focuses on geosciences, it has a social science component that focuses on human use of water. Black overlaid the video clips and shared tidbits about the history of the Lehigh River, which further improved student learning.

Black’s students were very involved in the project. For many, it was a fascinating experience since it was the first time that they were using a virtual reality headset. They appreciated how the Immersive Lab enabled them to have real opportunities that were previously only possible through excursions.

“Having a live view that you can go through and manipulate adds to the learning experience,” said Maggie Podunajec, Scranton senior. “Aside from this course, using this technology gives students experience and knowledge that they may not otherwise have access to.”

Black plans to continue using these videos in the fall and hopes to capture more environments that 30 students find difficult to access and that they have never seen in person before.

“One thing I would like to do in the future – I’m not sure if travel restrictions will work this year – is to create a comparative watershed video in the southwest,” said Black. “We talk a lot in this class about the differences in areas like ours, where we have tons of water, and there is a lot of overland flow compared to places in the west where there is very little. I would like to have a different experience where you can compare the two and experience them visually. “

Penn State Faculty is interested in integrating 360-degree video and other immersive technologies into its courses Contact Media Commons. Find resources and examples of Penn State Faculty’s 360-degree video at the catalog of experiences of the Immersive Experiences Lab.

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