Mona Voelkel

Archived News

360 Experiences that Build Empathy

NickHobogradKiribati.jpgImage by Nick Hobgood (

Hotseating, a reading comprehension strategy where students “step inside” a character has much in common with Virtual Reality where participants “step inside” a virtual world.  

Teachers can now take what was successful about hotseating (Wilhelm, 2002), along with current research on Immersive Virtual Experiences and design First Person 360 Experiences that engage students in learning while building empathy.  Much of the research has shown a positive impact related to societal or environmental issues when participants shifted perspectives and “became” a stigmatized or endangered person or entity

For example, in this 360 Experience: POV Oceans based on my updated Learning Framework and created using Thinglink, students are asked to take on the perspective of the ocean as they interact with carefully curated (please note that one of the videos contain an expletive) and sequenced information.  The lesson is designed to make students aware of the dangers that plastic water bottles pose to our oceans.  After students have interacted with the images and information, students are asked to write a letter, from the point of view of the ocean, to the people of Earth.  This letter is a formative assessment that will show how deeply the student has absorbed the threats that plastics pose to the ocean.

During the next phase of learning, students will be guided towards discussing, implementing and/or expanding upon some of the ideas that arose in the letters they wrote as the ocean.  Perhaps they could track changes in personal or community usage of water bottles or do a fundraiser to benefit ocean research by selling reusable water bottles?  Unleashing the possibilities of new technology through well-crafted lesson design allows students to gain information about important issues, filter information through a shifted perspective and then build on the learning to bring about change.  If the lesson is truly successful, it  allows for a virtual experience that leads into a real world journey of learning and empathy, followed by related action.

Based on my preference for not using Virtual Reality headgear in the classroom until more data can be gathered on potential dangers, I am now calling VR experiences using 360 photos without headgear “360 Experiences.”  I am interested in continuing to design these lessons using a shifted point of view, in keeping with the most recent Virtual Reality research in order to deepen learning and encourage empathy.  

Just as you are able to gain a fuller experience of place through virtual reality and/or 360 experiences which allows you to more fully “step into” a place (by an embodied experience or having to use your fingers for a “hands-on” experience), so, too, you are able to more fully “step in” and experience another person or entity when a lesson has been designed with sufficient information and stage-setting.  

It is exciting to ponder the intersection of research, technology, carefully crafted lessons and learning in the classroom that encourages students to be thoughtful about challenges in the real world.

What do you think?

Leave a Reply