VCARA Opens the Door to VR in Education

iStudent Blog

Published: May 30, 2019 by Havilah Steinman

The Virtual Center for Archives and Records Administration recently hosted their 10th annual conference in Second Life, entitled “Sands of Time Looking Back to Move Forward.” VCARA isn’t just for iSchool students, and openly welcomes all information professionals. VCARA is a great virtual community for individuals particularly interested in information science and education. The conference is an excellent example of this inclusivity, as their two keynote speakers, Dr. Valerie Hill and Daniel Dyboski-Bryant, shed light on this burgeoning new world.

An awards ceremony also marked the celebratory nature of VCARA’s 10th conference milestone! Dr. Hill was presented with an award for attending and presenting at the most VCARA conferences since 2009, and was also named an honorary VCARA member.

What Does a Virtual World Librarian Do?

Dr. Hill is the current president Community Virtual Library in Second Life, and has a PhD in Library and Information Science. She does exactly what a librarian anywhere else does, but does most her work in the new virtual landscapes. Dr. Hill mentioned that in the early days of virtual reality, there were many educators who came in and created avatars. Avatars gathered around virtual campfires and imagined ways to teach that could not be done in a physical space. Sitting behind a virtual reference desk, according to Dr, Hill, is not the best way to utilize their services. They work best with a sense of community and presence, just like in a physical library.

Identifying What Works and Doesn’t Work

Dr. Hill believes one of the big responsibilities of virtual librarians is to identify and navigate virtual spaces. Her focus is on how to be informed, ethical digital citizens, and participate in best practices. She firmly believes virtual librarians can provide everything that physical librarians can; book discussions, workshops and conferences, just like the VCARA conference, are all attainable. A virtual librarian, at its core, helps connect people and communities as actual resources.

The Community Virtual Library in Second Life is an excellent example of connecting people with resources. The virtual space has lots of exhibits, including art, digital citizenship, genealogy and math exhibits. These virtual exhibits offer unique learning opportunities that may not be possible in the physical world. For example, in a physical classroom, you can’t dump out a bucket of a million particles. But in the virtual math exhibit, this is completely possible. The learning experience in virtual reality is a completely different experience, according to Dr. Hill. 

Virtual World Database

Dr. Hill introduced the Virtual World Database as one of her organization’s main projects. The goal of this project, headed by iSchool alumna Alyse Dunavant-Jones, is to not only list landmarks but connect educators with learning communities. This will keep educators from reinventing the wheel, because they’ll be able to easily tell what has been done before, and build on each others work.

VR in Education – May You Learn in Interesting Times

Dyboski-Bryant began his presentation by sharing his first eye-opening experience with virtual reality. Dyboski-Bryant purchased a virtual reality headset for his son, and tried it out. He unexpectedly ended up doing a virtual tour of the international space station, and knew in that moment the way he approached education would never be the same.

Eighteen months later he co-founded Educators in VR, a group which brings educators together to discuss the future of virtual reality’s use in their respective fields. He firmly believes educators are pioneers of the new frontier of virtual reality because the social aspects of virtual reality, and the communities it spawns, are growing at such a rapid rate. 

According to Dyboski-Bryant, education isn’t just about learning. Education is about new thinking, experiences and collaborations. He believes that two of the things virtual reality is excellent at is expanding experiences by putting users inside a new world, and enabling collaboration across the world. As an educator, he wishes he could take students on engaging field trips every other day. With virtual reality, this is possible. He asserted that this has far reaching implications in education. Furthermore, virtual reality has the potential to bring unparalleled strides into diversity and inclusion in education. 

Risks, Challenges, and Recommendations

Dyboski-Bryant asked: What will happens when enough people join to make virtual reality a persistent part of our world? He believes educators need to develop guidelines which allow for maximum freedom with maximum respect. Issues such as privacy and harassment could become widespread otherwise. He believes VCARA, and other organizations like it, have dealt with these questions for 10 years and can offer insight.

He also discussed the issue of students becoming distracted by virtual reality, and losing the focus that quiet mindfulness brings. Lastly, he encouraged conference attendees to explore and stay open minded. According to Dyboski-Bryant, digital learning is a spectrum which represents all technology. No one medium will replace all the others, but together educators can create a greater pallet of choices and experiences. 

Explore VCARA Island

After the two wonderful keynote speakers, participants were invited to walk their avatars outside and experience the numerous presentations VCARA members had created. This allowed conference attendees to see the beautiful island that VCARA maintains and continues to improve upon. The conference ended with the great opportunity to experience The Queen’s Heroes of the Five Kingdoms premiered at the 12th Annual Virtual Worlds Best Practices in Education conference. 

All the hard work VCARA’s leadership and members put into their 10th annual conference was evidenced by all the wonderful and informative presentations attendees had the opportunity to be part of. Be sure to watch the VCARA blog for the conference recording link to go up. While virtual reality in education might be a new concept for a lot of us, the core ideas of connecting communities with needed information remains a constant in the great world of librarianship. I hope you enjoyed learning a bit more about this incredible student group, and got excited about the future of virtual reality! 

You can follow this Student Group at the iSchool on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and YouTube. VCARA also has their own informative blog on the iSchool website. If you have further questions, students are encouraged to reach out to Professor Pat Franks at patricia.franks@sjsu.edu.