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360/Virtual Reality immersive learning bridges distance for sustainable development course during COVID-19

Kopernik, a non-profit organization headquartered in Ubud, Indonesia, finds solutions to reduce poverty in the last mile. Kopernik believes in using lean experimentation approaches to find innovative solutions to social and environmental challenges. 

Kopernik’s Vanessa Harsamto and Ewa Wojkowska share how they leveraged their on the ground expertise to develop immersive learning modules to bridge the distance between the University of Melbourne and Universitas Gadjah Mada in Yogyakarta, Indonesia. Kopernik made sure that the learning of social development and sustainability studies didn’t stop despite the travel disruption caused by the global pandemic.

With many schools and universities remaining closed for in-person learning, there are concerns around access to education and students’ learning progress. 

At the same time, the disruption brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic has created an opportunity for educators to re-think and improve the use of digital technology and mixed media to support teaching and learning in educational institutions and for continued education in the workplace. 

Although online learning methods and platforms are nothing new in education, their utility has become more important than ever during this time, where physical interaction is limited, but virtual possibilities are endless. The massive shift from in-person learning to remote learning has accelerated innovation and creativity in this space.

For an organization like Kopernik, it has also provided us with an opportunity to share our work with a much broader audience while providing creative learning opportunities for students at various levels — from high school to universities and professional development in the workplace. 

Immersive Learning for Sustainable Development. Video: Kopernik

Modules for an immersive experience

For the University of Melbourne Social Policy and Development program — an intensive Masters level subject conducted in collaboration with the University of Gadjah Mada — a field visit to Indonesia is typically one of the core activities for students. 

This is intended to create a memorable experience to understand better the country they are studying and create meaningful cross-cultural connections among students. 

In the current COVID-19 situation with massive travel disruption, a field visit is not possible. To respond to this challenge, Kopernik collaborated with the University of Melbourne to create a program for students that would provide an immersive experience and be the next best thing to visiting in person. 

We produced three modules of immersive learning materials on the topics: Agriculture & challenges faced by smallholder farmers; The impact of COVID-19 on livelihoods in Bali; and marine plastic pollution and its environmental impacts. 

Students using VR devices during immersive learning. Image by Kopernik

Besides conventional learning materials such as reading materials, we also produced tailor-made video content about each topic complemented by 360/Virtual Reality videos.  

While the standard videos were intended to provide an engaging way for students to absorb the issues and facts on each topic, the 360/Virtual Reality videos were designed to provide the students with the ambiance, the sound, and ‘the feeling’ of being in the location, without requiring them to travel to the site physically — and to engage more of their senses during the learning process. 

Kopernik had previously utilized 360/Virtual Reality technology when our partners could not travel to a project location. In the case of an urban slum in Jakarta, we collected feedback from the community on a sanitation product. Our partner was able to engage with and ask questions in real-time, see and understand how and in what context their product would be used. 

Combining art & technology in education

One of the downsides of remote learning is that there is a higher likelihood of students getting bored with spending hours in front of a screen with limited human interaction and engagement. It is, therefore, important to create educational content that is engaging and varied.

We have found that less “talking heads” and engaging video content and music can increase students’ interest in learning. A household name, the late Sir Ken Robinson, a British educator, had long stressed the importance of creativity in education, which is now even more relevant in the current situation.

Considering the importance of developing students’ creativity as part of their education journey, Kopernik, in partnership with the BRIDGE School Partnership Program of the Asia Education Foundation, incorporated popular culture as a learning tool for high-school students in Indonesia and Australia.

Using a music video to educate students on marine plastic pollution

We used music and mixed media in our lesson plans through a series of video episodes produced as part of our Pulau Plastik campaign and collaborating with an Indonesian rockstar Robi Navicula. We encouraged students to be creative while learning about and exploring the challenges of marine plastic pollution and its impact on our environment. 

Access to technology

During the time of COVID-19, using mixed media and virtual reality content provides a safe way for learning while still providing an opportunity for students to have an immersive experience. 

However, access to the internet, computers, and smartphones remain a challenge for many.  While we still have a long way to go to make this type of learning inclusive and accessible for all, the COVID-19 pandemic has shown us that there are many creative and innovative ways to overcome the challenges we are facing. 

Kopernik’s lean experimentation approach to finding innovative solutions to social and environmental challenges.

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LEARNTech Asia
LEARNTech Asia showcases innovation in learning in Asia. We feature stories and resources in online learning, workplace learning, adult education, EdTech, and creative solutions by teachers and trainers in learning institutions, non-profits, and enterprises that enhance human capacity and inspire communities of lifelong learners.