“They can hear the water running, they can hear the cows mooing…”

Author: nathalie.carter@jisc.ac.uk
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Laura Power is a digital learning and skills developer and facilitator at Myerscough College, a 125-year-old land-based college of around 6,000 students across campuses in Croxteth, Blackburn and Preston. Working with her digital learning adviser colleague, Alexandra Nutter, she has pioneered the use of virtual reality (VR) in innovative ways for teaching and assessment at Myerscough.

In land-based courses there’s a massive gap in immersive reality material because the resources need to offer a real life experience for our students and you don’t often find that with computer-generated content.

We decided to use 360 video with interaction overlaid on the top rather than solely computer-generated virtual reality, which meant we needed to be able to film in real working environments. The 360 version creates an authentic experience for the students, much more tailored to what they will see in employment afterwards, rather than it feeling like a game. Gamification is brilliant but our students needed the authentic experience for it to feel real and to achieve the deeper learning they need.

We were keen to get employers involved from the very beginning and then throughout the project to help develop the resources. The packages were co-designed and reviewed by employers, tutors and learners until they were perfected for industry and curriculum needs.

For the milking parlour resource we used Lodge Farm, the dairy farm at the college, and filmed different routines for a couple of weeks, almost like a day in the life of working in the milking parlour.

We made sure we filmed some problem cows so that students would experience all kinds of situations before going on to the farm. It means the students gain soft skills and curriculum value – from understanding health and safety and hygiene laws to gaining confidence in handling large animals – before experiencing what could be a dangerous environment. It’s also good for the cows and their welfare if the students are more confident with what they need to do.

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Student using a VR headset on a farm

The reaction from the students has been really positive and enthusiastic. They have asked for more resources like this and have been very engaged with the whole process. One group were still debating one of the scenarios in class with their tutor two weeks later, making him go into the VLE and re-watch the VR package to see who was correct. They have really embraced the learning experience and critically analyse it and reflect on the material in class.

For us it was crucial to create the resources in a way that benefits learning and not just as a shiny new toy. Technology needs to have a sound pedagogical reason behind it.

“I’ve been using the VR resource for introduction on how the Myerscough milking parlour works and the routine we have to follow. The VR also shows the pre-milking set up of the parlour and equipment. It’s been good to have a visual of how the parlour works for when we have to do farm duties and our milking assessment.”
Janine Ashworth, agriculture student (level 3 year 2)

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“They can hear the water running, they can hear the cows mooing…”

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