A team consisting of six scholars from the University of North Carolina are not only enhancing learning but also encouraging students to go for STEM careers with the aid of virtual reality. The team is led by assistant professor in the college of education James Stocker and assistant professor in the department of computer science Toni Pence. The project undertaken by the team is funded by the National Science Foundation grant worth $394,606. Through the curriculum learners are immersed in an environment similar to that of a typical STEM occupation. “We have found that if we get students interested in their elementary school years, there is a much higher chance that they will go on to college and choose a STEM career.” Said Pence.
The project requires collaboration of several departments including the departments of Computer Science, Early childhood, Elementary, Literacy, Middle and Special education. The project aims to utilize Virtual Reality technology to introduce learners to real life challenges experienced in STEM jobs. Other members in the team include computer science department assistant professor Elham Ebrahimi, associate professors Amy Taylor and Amelia Moody and assistant professor Brittany Morago. The project is also open for several undergraduate students wishing to participate in it.
With the VR experience, learners will have a great opportunity to assume roles of different STEM occupations. For instance, they might take the role of a wildlife officer, park ranger, water quality expert or even a researcher, in the process they will get to understand real-life challenges that require critical thinking skills, applied learning and decision making. The project aims to achieve several goals among them is encouraging underserved students to pursue STEM careers and provide learners with an affordable VR learning experiences in schools systems with limited resources . According to Stocker, there is increasing demand for STEM professionals and it’s not a requirement to have an advanced degree to take on some of the jobs. The project also aims to prevent learners’ disengagement when approaching middle school.