Local Primary Schools And IT Tralee Secure Funding For Virtual Reality Programme 

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At the launch of the VR teaching programme at local schools at IT Tralee on Friday were, Conor Kearney, Abbeydorney NS, Betty Stack, Ardfert NS, Mary Brosnan, Tralee Educate Together, Marie O’Connell, Ardfert NS, Cliodhna Fitzmaurice, Lixnaw Boys School and Dr Joe Walsh, Head Of School of STEM, IT Tralee. Photo by Dermot Crean

A NUMBER of primary schools in Tralee and north Kerry, in collaboration with IT Tralee, have secured funding under the Department of Education and Skills’ School Excellence Fund, to implement an innovative virtual reality teaching programme.

The four participating schools are Ardfert National School, Abbeydorney National School, Tralee Educate Together National School and Scoil Mhuire de Lourdes, Lixnaw.

The funding, designed to support innovative projects in teaching and learning using digital technologies, will see the purchase 60 virtual reality headsets for use in the development and implementation of a teaching tool for the Primary Language Curriculum – English and Irish – through an enhanced learning environment utilising virtual reality and augmented reality (VR/AR) tools. Other subject areas such as History, Geography, Science and the Arts, will also be investigated over the course of the study.

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The project uses VR enabled low-cost digital devices for the creation of a virtual, highly engaging collective learning environment for each student in a class that can be controlled by the teacher. The teacher leads the progress of the students through the environment and can control the pace and level of advancement through the environment to suit the learning requirements of the syllabus and student ability.

The system is based around the Google Expeditions software, which is available for use by schools, free of charge. This software is run on low cost, tablet style devices, housed in a low-cost headset ‘holder’ with all units being tied together through a wifi gateway. All content within the system can be fully vetted and controlled by the teacher at all times from a ‘master’ tablet.

Commenting on the Project, Dr. Joseph Walsh, Head of School of STEM at IT Tralee said, “Children have enquiring minds that are naturally curious and adaptable. Digital technology can create an environment that nurtures these values and harnesses these attributes. It also encourages the competencies that children will need to develop and thrive in future global economies.”

The IMaR Technology Gateway and Lero at IT Tralee, have committed to providing technical support to the primary school teaching staff on this initiative, and will be responsible for installation and maintenance of the school kits throughout the three years of the project, providing technical support to the primary school teaching staff.

Marie O’Connell project lead at Ardfert National School said; “Through the use of a VR/AR tool the pupils benefit from rich opportunities in experiential learning which will be inclusive of all learning styles, needs and abilities. This project and the virtual reality experience it provides will engage and motivate all learners and provide them with the opportunity to engage with the wonders of our world without leaving the classroom.”

IT Tralee will support the schools and teachers at the start of each school year to provide training and outline supports available throughout the year, the first of which took place on Friday last at IT Tralee’s North Campus.

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