Bringing an Immersive Environment to Geography Lessons

Bringing an Immersive Environment to Geography Lessons

Wednesday, 07 June 2017

The learning of geography has taken on a new dimension for students at Ang Mo Kio Secondary School. This was made possible by teachers who partnered with an NIE researcher to bring an immersive environment into their classrooms

Learning possibilities become endless when students are immersed into a virtual world where the pages on the textbook come to life. 

Extending the Six Learnings Curriculum design framework and the Disciplinary Intuitions theory of learning was a project started by NIE Research Scientist Dr Kenneth Lim who used to be a geography teacher. By collaborating with the geography teachers of Ang Mo Kio Secondary School, this new initiative which brings an immersive environment into the classrooms, allowed students to create their own avatars and worlds that encouraged them to explore the different geographical landforms.

The use of an immersive learning environment was tailored specifically to meet the learning needs of the students. 

“The execution of the lesson is not difficult, but to make it easy, you have to plan,” Mrs Habibah Ismail, said. “We have to decide what the processes, stages and focus of the lessons are.”

The geography teachers chose to meet up regularly with Dr Kenneth Lim to discuss how the particular topic could be delivered seamlessly in the classroom. One example was the use of island customisation. As the teachers decided that in order to instill the concepts of rivers to students, it was crucial for Dr Lim’s team to customise an island based on the teachers’ specifications on how the rivers flow and what the students could see while going through the river course. 

During the first few lessons, the students would get to explore the island with accompanying worksheets that complement the lessons.  Once they acquired a strong grasp of the concepts and the processes of forming an island, they would be presented with an empty plot of land where they could create their own river systems. 

While having a virtual world in the classroom may sound fun and simple, teachers and students have to work on it collaboratively to ensure that the new platform of learning was not foreign to the students. Besides providing a 3D learning experience, this also acts as a platform that encourages students to make mistakes, be receptive and learn from them.

This unconventional teaching intervention has been well received by students and many have commented how it encourages them to think creatively when they have a perspective beyond what could be achieved during fieldwork.

“It helps us imagine!” says Rigel Bobis Sumbillo, a Secondary 3 student. “For example, our textbook doesn’t allow you to see the whole view of a mountain but Second Life allows that.”

Bevan Ng, a Secondary 2 student, says that being able to “see” better has enabled him to learn better. “I am a visual learner so when I see things, I can depict the scenes better so it is easier to learn coordinates and gradients,” he shares.

The students often surprised their teachers with what they came up with as they would draw inspiration from rivers such as the Nile or the Mississippi River that they had researched about. 

“I think it is very interesting for teachers to look at how they interpret their learning,” Mrs Ismail shared. “We can see both creation and creativity at work. Students can figure things out by themselves and it also encourages them to think hard!”

The intervention has also taught the teachers to be more creative when planning their lessons. Ms Clara Lim felt that it has helped her to be more innovative when she is crafting her teaching materials.

But like their students, to create something successful, working hand in hand is a requirement. “If you want this to work, you need a team of experienced teachers and a consultant,” Mrs Ismail shared. The Geography teachers and Kenneth certainly make for a creative team!

Geography NIEWS
(From left to right) Clara Lim, Habibah Ismail, and Jasvir Kaur and their students explore a virtual world - Second Life, as part of their Geography lessons.


This article was first published in Issue 52 <> of SingTeach, an e-magazine for teachers by the Office of Education Research, National Institute of Education and has since been adapted.