How It’s Done: Tech’s Gone Country - AR/VR in Rural Ed

Tech’s Gone Country, AR/VR in Rural Ed

(Image credit: Tina Bobrowski)

One rural district opened the world to their students using augmented and virtual reality elements to enrich core subjects and prepare them for the future. 

Who: Tina Bobrowski, Library Media Specialist 

Where: Owsley County High School in Southeastern Kentucky 

What: Using AR/VR to enhance rural education

Tina Bobrowski operates drone on school grounds

(Image credit: Tina Bobrowski)

Our students live in an isolated area in southeastern Kentucky. Without access to experiences that would be readily available in larger cities, such as museums and job shadowing experiences, and with a steep socio-economic gap with learners from other regions, we quickly realized that augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR) can bridge this gap by providing our students access to virtual experiences and resources in the fields of medicine, arts and humanities, and mathematics. Students learn immersed virtual worlds more quickly and with greater mastery. 

[AV Goes Accessible]

A big thing about our community is its natural beauty. Being located in the Appalachian mountains gives our students the opportunity to be surrounded by natural beauty including the Kentucky river, the Red River Gorge area, and the nearby Daniel Boone National Forest. Our student senate began an initiative with support from a community challenge grant awarded by the Kentucky Valley Educational Cooperative (KVEC) to capture the beauty of our region and tell our story as citizens of Owsley County and southeastern Kentucky. We purchased a drone to fly in the woodland areas and capture images and video of the natural wonder that is southeastern Kentucky.

Positive Results

Student wearing AR/VR helmet

(Image credit: Tina Bobrowski)

In a high school setting, where students are often hesitant to raise their hands, come to the board, or demonstrate their learning, we have witnessed our students jumping at the chance to put on the headset and explore, show their friends what they have found, and share their experience with others. Students make connections and use them to cement concepts gained from their texts and lessons. With the implementation of drone technology in our classes, students are beginning to see new fields of employment, including unmanned aerial photography and videography. 

View of amusement park from drone

(Image credit: Tina Bobrowski)

Not only is it in their digital world, where they feel comfortable as digital natives, but it also provided them with more immersive learning, where students felt free to take risks and explore. In particular, they immediately bought into the idea of flying a drone for class. Journalism students were eager to “spread their wings,” learn to fly, get coverage of locations and scout ideas for other flights quickly. ELA students took a virtual reality tour of Ancient Greece, focused on Greek sculpture, then utilizing Z spaces actually created their own “virtual sculpture of a peer” in a similar style.

Biggest Challenge

Three students sharing VR gear

(Image credit: Owsley County High School)

Our biggest obstacle is capacity. With only one virtual reality headset currently and six augmented reality systems, students must work in small groups. We overcame our challenges by embracing modular learning, where students receive information at one station, work on Z Spaces in another station, and complete other portions of their lesson in the classroom.

Finding Funding

Grant funding has supported this initiative. In addition to federal Title I funding where available to support student learning. 

Unfortunately, in our small socio-economically distressed area, traditional jobs are not available. Our new Gigabit Community with high speed internet can provide new viable options for graduates who may choose to stay and work from their homes in tech fields. Having tech skills is imperative as our community's TeleWorks USA Hub has provided work in our area from Apple, DELL, UHaul, Amazon, Concentrix and is now the largest employer in our county.

Pro Tips

Students use drone controller outside

(Image credit: Tina Bobrowski)

Target specific units of study when implementing software. Utilize available space and stage the learning environment. In addition, make sure students can not only utilize the technology, but observe others utilizing the technology, see what they are doing, and share their experiences. When looking into drone technology, educators should take a close look at larger companies and understand the standards for sensors, and how drones can be used in the classroom. Companies such as DJI cater specifically to the educational realm. 

Boy in wheelchair smiles while using VR/AR headset and controller.

(Image credit: Tina Bobrowski)

Finally, make all decisions on what is best for students and what can remove barriers to student learning. Carefully review software to include students with special physical considerations, including assisted visuals, captioned audio, seated only interactions, and controller sensitivity adjustment for learners who may need assistance with their fine motor skills. We have found all students, including “differently-abled” students with special needs, find virtual learning to be more accessible than traditional learning resources.

Tech Tools

  • Z Space Augmented Reality System
  • Primary and Secondary AR glasses/Stylus/Tables to support at least three chairs per Z Space
  • Custom Built PC w/additional large monitor for other students to observe
  • HTC VIVE Virtual Reality System with Audio Upgrade (over-the-ear headphones)
  • Viveport software subscription service
  • DJI Mavic Pro 2 drone

Watch as we are “Traveling Beyond Appalachia in a Virtual Learning Lab”: 

 A high school journalism class uses drone footage in their monthly digital newsletters:

Sascha Zuger

Sascha has nearly two decades of experience as a freelance journalist writing for national magazines, including The Washington Post, LA Times, Christian Science Monitor, National Geographic Traveler, and others. She writes about education, travel and culinary topics.