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A Look into Independent Learning

by Eddie Rayner

While digital transformation within the classroom setting has been increasingly prevalent in the past few decades, recent research conducted by Microsoft suggests that students do not simply want automation of their learning. Instead, they want to choose and use technology to create and be creative and, importantly, they highly value the role of their teachers.

“Two years ago we asked 4,000 students across five countries about their aspirations, expectations and experiences in schooling,” says Mark Sparvell, Education Leader at Microsoft. “The students were clear that they did not want to be stuck in front of a computer and have the computer teach them. They wanted teachers who knew them well as people and as learners. They value their relationship with their teachers; they wanted it, which surprised us.

“However, they did say that they wanted the teacher to provide them with the skills they needed to become more autonomous learners. And technology plays a really important part in supporting students to do this.”

But how effective are technologies such as Augmented Reality (AR) and Virtual Reality (VR), and are they good for learning?

Students do not simply want automation of their learning

Mark Sparvell believes so. “Last year, we published another research paper, a meta-analysis called Mixed Reality: New Places and Spaces for Learning. It turns out mixed reality is beneficial in many ways. 

“One way is that beyond engaging young people, it allows them to interact with three-dimensional objects, which they would normally do in the real world. But often for students, they have to take two-dimensional diagrams they see on paper and try to imagine them in three-dimensions. In an AR or a VR setting, they can take that object and manipulate it as they would do in the real world. These mixed reality experiences also allow students to do things that would not normally be possible or safe, for example, conduct experiments in space.

“MERGE Cube, one of our partners, has built a little physical cube that students can hold and, through the phone, can bring out a whole range of content, such as exploring how sharks swim or learning how water cycles operate, within the palm of their hands. That’s the power of AR overlaying on the real world; it’s a technology that activates a part of a student’s brain where their full senses are being used.”