Quality social-emotional learning (SEL) and effective special education (SpEd) programming look remarkably similar. Each relies on a positive, safe learning environment and touts activities geared toward student strengths and weaknesses. Both types of programming facilitate a group experience where individual outcomes are designed to be disparate, be recorded, and used to track growth. Because these two types of programming are similar in philosophy, it should come as no surprise that both SEL and SpEd can be enhanced and expanded by innovative edtech solutions—most notably, student-created virtual reality (360 VR videos).

The benefits of VR

VR is proving to be an effective engagement tool in diverse ways: visiting museums around the world, blasting off into space, etc. But VR does not have to be limited to geography and science classrooms. By using student-created, perspective-taking videos, VR can be a powerful experiential tool that aligns with and augments both SEL and SpEd outcomes.

When students put on a headset to view these types of videos, they are stepping into another life, another story. They will find connection in the familiar and discover meaning in what they perceive to be different. Students then begin to develop perspective-taking skills, resulting in newfound levels of relationship skills (communication), self-management (emotional control in response to a story), and social awareness (empathizing with the storyteller). As a bonus, viewing VR films is an incredibly immersive experience, making student engagement—often a legitimate challenge—easier to achieve.

How student-created VR can enhance SEL and special ed

Similarly, filming VR videos can be a vulnerable experience. When students get in front of the camera to share stories that are important to them, they’re developing self-awareness skills (recognizing personal values) and responsible decision-making skills (e.g., identifying problems and solutions around ethical responsibilities such as bullying intervention).

Do those skills sound familiar? That’s because they’re right in line with CASEL’s 5 major SEL competencies, along with the many goals associated with SpEd. In this way, VR can enhance the development of these competencies by providing teachers with new and exciting ways to approach their programming.

About the Author:

Billy Deskin is a special education teacher at Eckstein Middle School in Seattle. He is a graduate of Seattle University’s Master in Teaching program.

Sam Williamson is a co-founder at Kinful. Kinful is a K-12 SEL program where students produce their own perspective-taking VR films and watch those made by global peers.


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