How VR arts field trips expand access for underserved students

“We've heard a kid say, ‘This art is dope.' We've heard a lot of kids say, ‘This experience is lit.'”

In a unique use of VR, a nonprofit in Arizona is using VR headsets to bring arts education to students who tend to have limited access to cultural activities.

Act One previously took Title I students in Phoenix and Tucson on arts-related, in-person field trips. But the organization realized there were plenty of students in the vast rural areas outside those cities who weren’t being reached, says Beth Maloney, the nonprofit’s director of arts education.

The organization’s two sets of 50 traveling VR headsets are Wi-Fi-enabled, so they work in communities where internet access is less reliable. Act One is now working on expanding its content library, and its current experience capitalizes on the popularity of the mural movement in the U.S.

Along with Arizona’s vibrant history of public art, the VR field trip brings students to the Detroit Institute, where major works of Mexican artist Diego Rivera are on display. In another “chapter” of the field trip, Phoenix-born muralist Joseph Perez, who now works in Chicago, brings students into his studio and shows off murals in the city. “In between chapters, students are taking off the headsets and having guided discussions,” Maloney says. “Half the learning experience on any field trip is talking to friends and comparing the things seen and all the processing that goes along with that.”

The organization also has built-in accessibility features, such as Spanish subtitles and the ability to raise and lower the brightness of the images and the field trip can be experienced on a tablet with headphones for students who aren’t comfortable being fully immersed.

“We’ve heard a kid say, ‘This art is dope.’ We’ve heard a lot of kids say, ‘This experience is lit,’” Maloney says. “They feel like it speaks to them, and that’s about as great a thing as we could have possibly built.”

More from DA: Has virtual reality reached a moment of deeper engagement in K-12 learning?

Matt Zalaznick
Matt Zalaznick
Matt Zalaznick is a life-long journalist. Prior to writing for District Administration he worked in daily news all over the country, from the NYC suburbs to the Rocky Mountains, Silicon Valley and the U.S. Virgin Islands. He's also in a band.

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