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How T Level students are shaping the future of learning using virtual reality

Alexandra Brown-Adams Alexandra Brown-Adams Innovation Officer at NCFE

One of the things that I love the most about working in innovation is witnessing pioneering new technology come to life – from the page, through to the prototype. So, you can imagine how thrilled I was when Calderdale College in Halifax invited colleagues from our Innovation and Investments and our Learning and Technology Resources teams to attend a virtual reality (VR) testing day earlier this month! 

Even more exciting was the fact that the focus was on a VR prototype which is being funded through NCFE’s £1m Assessment Innovation Fund (AIF) and is looking to evaluate the use of VR in the delivery and formative assessment of core curriculum, in order to replicate industry standards in the health and social care sectors.  

Through this, Calderdale is aiming to show that the use of simulation and VR in assessment can assist learners in gaining valuable, real-life scenario practice without fear of consequence – but also, to demonstrate how learners can be involved in the shaping of these learning resources.  

Shaped by T Level students 

How so? This pilot is bringing together learners from both digital and health and social care qualifications to collaborate in the development and delivery of their own learning; this isn’t just simply technology being developed by educators and experts. 

Instead, Digital T Level learners have established a development team that built and delivered the VR scenarios which will be used to assess learners in segments of the T Level in supporting Healthcare. The use of VR within the Health and Social Care sector, where decisions are often high-stakes and pressurised, can support students to learn in a safe environment where mistakes can be embraced and learnt from. 

Calderdale College has also partnered with immersive technology experts at Taran3D to support learners in developing and editing the VR app themselves – which is really impressive. 

When testing the prototype, I was amazed by how realistic and intuitive this experience was. For example, I was able to test out an infection control scenario, which informed me of the correct PPE to use before cleaning up a spillage on the floor. 

Individuals test out the VR prototype

NCFE colleagues test out the VR prototype at Calderdale College

For T Level students, this technology will be able to assess whether a healthcare professional correctly diverted from their task of collecting patient observations to deal with infection hazards in the room or not – one of just three VR scenarios that the pilot will develop by the time it is completed this summer. 

One set of T Level students being able to support the learning of another set of T Level students is fully aligned with their collaborative and hands-on nature, and is truly inspiring. 

Making VR a cornerstone of learning 

Beyond the single prototype, the wider mission of this project is also inspiring – to make VR a part of the learning resources offer from the get-go when studying, rather than being an add-on. 

By collating evidence that this technology is needed and indeed enhances the learner experience, the stakeholders involved in this project – Calderdale College, the Calderdale and Huddersfield NHS Foundation Trust, Health Education England, the University of Huddersfield, and the University of Leeds – hope to demonstrate to audiences such as the Department for Education, that this could be the new norm. 

By creating a repository of VR environments and assets and sharing these with the world of education, this group hopes that everyone can one day have access and develop inspiring learning scenarios more efficiently. Plus, by having the app developed by learners, this group has ensured contribution to the project’s mission of training future generations to develop content themselves.  

This pilot is the first step in realising this overall vision, and the research that comes out of this pilot stage will be instrumental in building the evidence base needed.  

An example of an infection control scenario in VR

An example of an infection control scenario in VR

A day full of learning and inspiration 

Our involvement didn’t end with this testing – in fact, the day at Calderdale College was full of learning and inspiration for all of us NCFE colleagues who attended. 

For example, we were informed about a company called Arbor XR, which is used to deploy and manage all extended reality (XR) apps remotely, without the need to upload them onto an app store or having to sideload (transferring a file from one local device to another) them 

We were also invited to attend a wider focus group, feeding back on the VR prototype that our Assessment Innovation Fund is supporting.  

It was really interesting to hear that feedback from the stakeholders in the room and teachers to date has been really positive, showing that there is a need for this type of technology to fill the gaps in teaching and assessment of replicating dangerous and risky activities (such as infectious disease control) or by replicating the environments that are usually difficult to access (such as working at heights).  

The feedback even suggested that these FE learners will be getting access to VR simulations that are equal to, or better than, health students in HE institutions.  

Based on this feedback, the college will make amends and refine the app to get it to its most optimum version, before presenting it to the students and collating the results to form the research report, which again will be supported by AIF funding. 

Overall, my colleagues and I had a fantastic day and would like to thank Calderdale College for their hospitality. They say you learn something new every day, but I’d struggle to count how many things I learned on the day, and I definitely look forward to seeing the next steps of this venture and the findings of the research report! 

If you’re feeling ready to learn something new and would like to read about the pilots that our Assessment Innovation Fund is supporting, you can find out more information here. 

If you know of anyone who might be interested in receiving similar funding to break boundaries in the future of assessment, you can apply to the recently opened Window 5 of our AIF funding here. 

The use of VR within the Health and Social Care sector, where decisions are often high-stakes and pressurised, can support students to learn in a safe environment where mistakes can be embraced and learnt from.

By Alexandra Brown-Adams, Innovation Officer at NCFE