Last week I took my Y11 English class into our school’s new(ish) virtual media room. It’s kitted out with a stereoscopic projection system, and I wanted to use a piece of software on Of Mice and Men that I’d seen briefly demonstrated at an after school CPD session recently.
The package by Reachout Interactives, called Mindscene is based on a mindmap, but allows you to travel along the various branches of the map, interacting with elements in it as you go. Key quotations can be heard spoken by actorss with authentic accents (handy for us in the UK), there are question-mark icons periodically that offer discussion prompts, and bulletin boards are placed at various strategic points where you can add your own comments or post images. If students had access to the software on the school network I could envisage this fgeature being used effectively as an assignment planning tool, as I believe you can pull out the content of the bulletin boards as a document file.
I’d had cance to spend a few minutes familiarising myself with the software and how to control it. The package can be used on a regular pc monitor and it would be better to have installed it on my own laptop to get to know the content beforehand. Controlling the movement through the virtual landscape using the gyro-mouse (a wireless contoller with an internal accelerometer that converts movement of the hand to control movement on screen) was beyond me, at first. As it turned out that was no bad thing. The opportunity for my students to laugh at me is one they always seize with relish. It led to a relaxed, humorous atmosphere from the off (the gawky 3D glasses are quite an ice-breaker, too), and fortunately our tech-guy Tomek was on hand to step in and do the controlling for me. This allowed me to focus on the content, using our explorations to prompt questions, comments and discussion.
The students, a lower set group with a couple of fairly disaffected members, were engaged throughout the 45 minutes or so that we spent using the software. I was really impressed with the recall that that they showed even though this was a first revision of a text we studied last year. I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t have got the same response in a regular classroom revision session.
The 3-D effects are pretty much a novelty rather than a genuinely functional feature (software that I’ve seen demoed for Geography and Biology that allows virtual tours of landscape feaures, or body organs was more obviously useful in a practical sense). Nevertheless, the effect of being visually and aurally immersed in the content we were considering certainly had a positive effect on the engagement of my students, and I think the subsequent writing task they have had to do has benefitted from the experience.
(Must get my wrist action sorted with that gyro-mouse, though…