NubianVR is a virtual reality startup in Ghana. This post originally appeared on their Medium account. It is republished here with permission and as an introduction to Ghana’s virtual reality space.
In 2017, NubianVR made a commitment to focus all its resources on building solutions in Virtual Reality that will be instrumental in addressing the learning challenges of our time. The goal was to build learning solutions that could significantly contribute towards the realization of Sustainable Development Goal 4 — i.e. ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all.
Why would a start-up in Ghana uphold itself to such a huge task?
In 2015, after a 15-year global campaign — through Millenium Development Goal 2 — towards achieving universal primary education; 61 million children were still unable to attain primary education globally; bringing the sum total of children unable to gain access to both primary and secondary education to 263 million.
In addition to the challenge of learning accessibility, in 2017 the global community’s attention was also drawn to the quality of education in classrooms. A UNESCO Institute of Statistics (UIS) paper revealed that 617 million children and adolescents attending schools were not learning the minimum in reading and mathematics globally.
Furthermore, agenda driven by the World Economic Forum and Centre of Curriculum Redesign challenges the relevance of current teaching and learning methods in delivering the requisite knowledge, skills, and competencies needed for success in the 21st century.
The combination of all these factors signals an urgent need to reconsider the strategy for delivering education on a global scale. Terrified by the consequences of the current educational status-quo, the NubianVR team is inspired to demonstrate an alternate strategy made possible by the emergence of virtual reality and advancement in learning technology.
What has Virtual Reality got to do with it?
Digital Learning is the Most Practical Way To Accelerate Educational Access While Also Ensuring Educational Quality and Relevance
Despite the global aspiration in the year 2000 to provide access to Universal Primary educational opportunity to every child between 2000 and 2015, the global community relying on a predominantly school-based approach of education delivery, has been unable to attain this goal. Considering that the current SDG educational aspirations push the accessibility goal much further by striving to create learning opportunities for all by 2030, it has become evident that a more scalable strategy needs to be adopted.
Digital technologies may provide a significant opportunity here; In 2008, there existed about 179 million smartphone connections globally, compared to more than 5 billion smartphone connections that now exist. This exponential growth of smartphones indicates a strong potential for digital technologies — which are increasingly getting more powerful and affordable — to fulfill the learning opportunities unmet by traditional schools. Just like smartphones, VR devices equally benefit from this exponential growth; in 2015, the portable Oculus VR device — i.e. Samsung GearVR — cost $700; fast-forward to 2020 the Oculus Go a significantly superior device costs $150.
Computing is Gradually Converging in the Immersive Verse
Taking a moment to access the evolution of our data experience from Personal Computer, to networked PC’s, to miniaturized networked PC — i.e. smartphones, tablets et al; the most pervasive trend that one will notice is continuous improvement in how efficiently we can access and manipulate data. Virtual Reality technology belongs to this same pedigree of technology that improves upon our data interaction. Given the explosive nature of data we have to deal with in today’s world — evident by our multiple screens & multiple-tabs culture — it becomes necessary to break beyond the confines of our 2D screens and shift our digital experience to a more accommodating environment. Taking this gradual but certain evolution into account, it becomes essential that any learning solution that will be relevant in the future must take into account the emergent space of immersive technology.
Virtual Reality Amplifies the Advances Made in Digital Learning
Digital technologies have facilitated methods of learning that were previously too expensive or cumbersome to carry out in traditional classrooms such as personalized learning and game-based learning.
Personalized Learning allows learners the opportunity to learn using approaches that are tailored to each student’s learning strengths, needs & interests; it also presents the opportunity for learners to learn at paces that ensure thorough mastery of concepts. Game-based Learning, on the other hand, makes the learning process more enjoyable while also allowing educators to nurture soft-skills such as Communication, Collaboration, Critical Thinking, Creativity, Perseverance, etc. in learners, which have been identified as very critical skills as we move into the future.
Virtual Reality provides an opportunity to amplify the effects of these pedagogical styles by providing a distraction-free environment where learners are able to interact with multimedia formats and 3D objects thus facilitating learning engagement levels previously unattainable in traditional classrooms and beyond the reach of preceding technology like smartphones, tablets, and computers. This notable contribution that virtual reality brings into education will further blur the lines between education and entertainment thus increasing the appeal for people inside and outside of school to learn thus nurturing the culture of lifelong learning.
What educational impact does NubianVR seek to achieve?
Identify the pedagogical strategies that are most effective in delivering on learning outcomes — motivation, mastery and 21st relevance
The current pool of VR content demonstrates a wide variety of approaches to delivering learning in Virtual Reality; each implementing an approach that incorporates different levels of interactivity, game-techniques, animations, and media materials. Also, many of these content borrow digital learning approaches — such as adaptive learning and game-based learning techniques — that have been previously tried on preceding digital platforms such as PC and mobile.
Despite the multitude of VR content development approaches, little evidence exists to demonstrate the efficacy of each of these approaches in delivering on learning outcomes such as — motivation, mastery and 21st-century relevance. NubianVR seeks to undertake research that builds the evidence to validate the efficacy of VR in delivering on learning outcomes. Additionally, based on research insights, NubianVR seeks to identify VR content formats that could help educators maximize learners’ understanding.
Develop the critical digital infrastructure required to deliver on the above pedagogical goals.
Research insights as to what learning approaches work in Virtual Reality will bring us closer to answering the question of what kind of digital infrastructure will be integral to drive learning in VR. Personalized Learning and Game-Based Learning have been identified as integral in driving learning outcomes that are relevant for the 21st Century — i.e. Social and Emotional Learning. What does the implementation of these approaches to learning look like in virtual reality? What kind of digital tools will be essential in fostering learning approaches that facilitate learning motivation and learning mastery while also preparing learners for the 21st-century world? Our learning platform in virtual reality will be designed to address these questions using evidence generated from our in-house research as well as state of the art Learning and VR research.
Partner with educational stakeholders to deploy this technology in service of the global learning goals
Virtual Reality holds the potential to impact learning in various capacities from improving accessibility to learning opportunities through improving the quality of education for learners in the classroom.
In the context of accessibility, VR promises the possibility to reach students who otherwise are unable to gain access to education resulting from proximity to schools; students whose education has been disrupted by conflict can benefit from this medium as it could provide an alternative to traditional schools.
As it relates to improving the quality of education in classrooms, a virtual reality instructional approach will be relevant in improving individual student engagement while also allowing students to familiarize themselves with digital modalities that will define the future of computation and communication.
Additionally, the ability to access quality education via virtual learning environments as opposed to traditional learning institutions makes VR a viable medium for providing access to lifelong learning opportunities to all. Collaborating with organizations whose goals are aligned with ours — i.e. aimed at improving educational accessibility, educational quality & relevance — will be crucial to ensuring that global educational targets are met in a more efficient manner.