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Earth Science instructor receives $10,000 fellowship to study VR in the classroom

A Douglas College instructor has received a $10,000 fellowship to conduct in-depth research on the pros and cons of virtual reality field trips for students in the geosciences.

Derek Turner, an instructor in Earth Science, was named one of two Education Technology Fellows for 2019-2020 by BCcampus, a provincially funded body that supports post-secondary institutions as they evolve their teaching and learning practices to give students a better experience.

The EdTech Fellows program allows post-secondary instructors to experiment with technology that could improve student learning and to generate empirical research on the effectiveness of that technology.

Turner created a number of VR field trips for first-year Earth Science students at Douglas College who are unable to join live field trips because of work, family and other commitments. He said while his students appreciate the flexibility of VR field trips, he wants to know more.

“There is already a growing body of research on the cognitive effects of VR – how well students learn facts and other subject material – but this study will focus on how VR impacts affective learning, that is, motivation, interest, attitude et cetera, in Earth Science.”

Turner said gathering this information is important as field trips are how many people fall in love with the natural sciences.

“Field trips are a vital recruiting tool and, more importantly, significant in getting people interested in our environment.”

Another of Turner’s goals is to build out more field trips and make them openly accessible to whoever wants to use them.

“I want to create a series of VR field trips from around B.C. so that our students, the general public and anyone around the world can step into these environments and virtually explore the province.”

Brian Chapell, Dean of Science and Technology at Douglas, said Turner is a leader in incorporating virtual reality as a learning tool in higher education. 

“This fellowship is a perfect fit with Derek’s skills and interests, and will allow him to assess and refine his approaches to bringing technology into the classroom. I have seen and experienced some of his existing virtual field activities and look forward to seeing what else he comes up with through this fellowship.”

VR field trips currently on offer at Douglas allow students to study the geology of Vancouver and the North Shore, of the Chilliwack Valley, and of the buildings of downtown Vancouver, which are made from different types of rock.