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Virtual reality goggles used to help online students learn at Calgary's Rundle Studio

The old one-room school on the Prairies hosted a single teacher providing lessons for many children in various grades, all gathered under one roof.

Now, technology helps one educator teach multiple students remotely in their homes just about anywhere in the world.

Rundle Studio is a virtual school based in Calgary, in its second year of operation with 28 students enrolled in grades 7, 8 and 9.

It specializes in personalized instruction for struggling students of all abilities.

As it grows, so does the school's methods of teaching.

John Wolf is the principal and says the newest tools for teachers are virtual reality goggles.

"It's really exciting what is possible with virtual reality. We're able to engage students like never before, things like having to manipulate objects in virtual reality," said Wolf.

"For example, putting molecules together in space and time, you can't do that in real life, you can't do that in the classroom. You can simulate it, you can get Styrofoam balls, but here you can actually see the scale of it."

Wolf says right now, the VR goggles are used before school in a recess environment with teachers present.

It's also valuable in social and science classes.

Wolf says the kids are allowed to explore in the metaverse, but the class can be quickly brought back to order.

"Sometimes, you just want all the kids to sit down and listen, well, two clicks of a button and I have all my students sitting and listening," he said.

"They can't say anything. They're muted and I have complete autonomy as a teacher and I start teaching the class, I'll teach the lesson, I'll give them the manipulatives and then you'll release them from their seats, they can run around, they can move, they can manipulate and create objects as they go."

Wes Brown is a Grade 8 student at Rundle Studio and likes the new technology, but it was hard to get used to.

"At first, I got a little nauseous, but then I got used to it," he said.

"So you have to get used to it a little bit, but then you're good."

Wes says all his classmates create their own avatar, so when they're using the goggles they can see each other.

He lives with cerebral palsy and his dad, Tyson, says in the virtual world, Wes can do all kinds of things.

"I mean, it's early days for (the VR goggles), but we all see the potential," said Tyson.

"You can visit faraway places and it's very immersive and for science and social and stuff like that, they're able to kind of be a lot more engaged ... which is kind of cool."

Tyson says in Wes's two years at the studio, his marks have improved dramatically and he's more engaged in the classroom, whether it's through Zoom or VR goggles.

"He's gone from kind of being on the periphery in classes to being very engaged," he said.

"It's very much hands-off for us as parents. I mean, he takes full charge of his studies now and is thriving."

Wes says he looks forward to classes and finding out what's in store for him when he puts the goggles on.

"It's pretty good. It's like being in a physical school, but you're at home and online," said Wes.

"Teachers can actually sit you beside your classmates and the teacher's up front talking, so it's basically like being in a physical school."

Wolf says the school is getting inquiries from other teachers who want to know more about VR goggles used to educate students.

"We've talked to a number of schools who start seeing it in our social media and on our website," he said.

"They want to know, what are you doing and how are you doing this, so I'd love to see other schools starting to use this, I'd love to collaborate with them."

Wolf says technology plays a big role at Rundle Studio and knows it will constantly evolve and get better.

"The big idea is helping kids," said Wolf.

"That's what we want to do, we want to help students, we want to help families, we want them to get the education that they deserve."

The studio is expanding to include Grade 10 in September 2023 and it's hosting a virtual open house on March 22.

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