Publicación original: https://observatory.tec.mx/edu-bits-2/learn-the-periodic-table-with-virtual-reality
The way we present knowledge to high school students determines whether they fall in love with subjects, no matter what it is. Science, especially chemistry, is one of students' least preferred due to the many concepts, structures, and rules they must learn for comprehension. However, when the students can observe and move virtually inside the chemical reaction of an atom or a molecule, they become participants in their learning process, a triggering event for self-motivation.
I look for students in my chemistry class to learn immersively with all their senses involved in a single activity. The interactions happening in a virtual reality environment make students feel like protagonists in the activities they perform.
"The students were able to enter the interior of a molecule of salt, water, gas, and other substances to observe its structure and understand the teacher's explanation."
Teaching chemistry with virtual reality
The pandemic brought many challenges and endless opportunities within the digital education field to use technologies and learning platforms at all educational levels. After two years, the new normal of blended classes brings us ever closer to the hybridity of our educational model. According to Sousa, Campanari, and Rodriguez (2021), virtual reality in a hybrid model can enhance students' learning but is not alone a guarantee of improving motivation or learning. The teacher's didactic sequence must be designed to support the steps and actions to be fulfilled in each class session.
An immersive environment for teaching chemistry helps students better understand what the teacher is trying to convey in class. Even if the teacher uses videos, images, or molecular models, these do not stimulate their senses at the level of virtual reality. Integrating immersive technological tools within the classroom dynamics, as Anacona, Millán, and Gómez (2019) reported, motivates students to learn due to the integrated didactics, methodologies, and content covered in the classroom.
Virtual reality employed in the classroom has increased since 2015, as reported in the bibliometric study of Campos, Ramas, and Moreno (2020). They presented the data of scientific research using this tool in education. In just three years, the number of studies in indexed journals doubled, from 86 in 2015 to 161 in 2018, a significant increase in virtual reality in teaching processes.
School project for learning chemistry with virtual reality
For third-semester high school students, I designed activities for a virtual reality project focused on improving their understanding of concepts related to the internal structure of matter, such as atoms, atomic orbitals, and isotopes. We also worked on issues related to the periodic table, the properties of the elements, and their electronic configuration. We used the MelVr application, which can download for free on the students' cell phones, then introduced the cell phone application into the virtual reality headset. For this purpose, we used the VIOTEK Spectre VR Headset.
The students can enter the molecular interiors of salt, water, gas, or any other substance presented to observe its structure and understand what the teacher has just explained. Alternatively, they can first explore the molecular world and listen to the teacher's explanation. Thus, both students and teachers achieve a symbiosis moving between the virtual and real worlds. The motivation, the faces of amazement, and the good results in the evaluations stood out in the chemistry classes in which students worked with virtual reality.
We provided the students with glasses inside which they placed their cell phones to first listen to the explanation of the topic. As they entered the substances virtually, they learned about the internal structure of matter through the stimulation of all their senses. Once introduced the topic through virtual reality, the teaching-learning process was much simpler because the virtual interactions with the internal structure helped them understand abstract topics and concepts more quickly.
Incorporating this technology was carried out in two experimental groups and a control group, the latter receiving classes traditionally, using videos and the blackboard to explain the class topics. The results were significantly encouraging; the experimental groups had higher evaluation averages than the control group in most activities. Notably, the most significant difference was the students' understanding of the concepts: the experimental groups made much more detailed explanations of the internal structure of matter than the control group.
Finally, in the student survey conducted to know their motivation in their learning process, the experimental groups expressed their enjoyment in learning chemistry differently in a fun way through this technology.
Virtual reality applications for learning chemistry
Several virtual reality applications for learning are available, requiring special glasses to maximize the brain's stimuli and thus improve the learning process. Ramirez and Bueno (2020) used an immersive environment through a virtual laboratory application for organic chemistry, concluding that their students improved their understanding of complex topics. They also observed that the skills and knowledge acquired were enhanced using virtual environments. The sensations experienced by students interacting through these tools helped them learn chemistry differently. Many applications offered in the market make it possible to find a number of them suitable for most organic and inorganic chemistry topics.
Some virtual reality applications for learning chemistry are excessively costly, but others, such as Mel Vr, which I used with my students, are accessible for free. This application allows observing the atomic structures of the periodic table elements, the arrangement of their electrons, and their orbitals; thus, we could delve into the subject of electronic configuration without neglecting the characteristics that predict their properties. Likewise, Maksimenko et al. (2021) used this same application with first-year university students to connect macroscopic, tangible common substances with the microscopic world of their internal structure, resulting in better learning experiences. They concluded that using the MelVr application improved learning abstract concepts related to atomic structure and the periodic table.
Using immersive technologies has resulted in better learning outcomes and increased student motivation, highlighting that more teachers should use these technologies in their classrooms. Several options do not require significant investments. Others can be feasible thanks to the support of the NOVUS fund that allows us to implement new strategies to improve teaching processes.
I invite you to explore the use of virtual reality in your courses and share your experiences and learning through the Observatory of the Institute for the Future of Education of Tec de Monterrey.
About the author
Mariela Damaris Urzúa Reyes (email@example.com) has been chair professor of science in the PrepTec (high school) of Tecnologico de Monterrey, Toluca Campus, since 2013. She has more than 17 years of experience as a teacher carrying out innovative projects in the classroom. She has designed augmented reality applications and 3D environments for learning chemistry. She is a Winner of the NOVUS 2020 project on using virtual reality to improve spatial visualization and the learning of abstract chemistry concepts. Her YouTube channel has more than 3,800 subscribers.
Anacona, J.D., Millán, E.E., Gómez, C.A. (20019) Aplicación de los metaversos y la realidad virtual en la enseñanza. Entre ciencia y tecnología 13 (25). DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.31908/19098367.4015.
Campos, M.N., Ramos, M. & Moreno, A.J. (2020). Realidad virtual y la motivación en el contexto educativo: estudio bibliométrico de los últimos veinte años en Scopus. Alteridad. Revista de educación. 15 (1). Available at: http://scielo.senescyt.gob.ec/scielo.php?script=sci_arttext&pid=S1390-86422020000100047#ref14
Maksimenko, N., Okolzina, A., Vlasova, A., Tracey, C., & Kurushkin, M. (2021). Introducing Atomic Structure to First-Year Undergraduate Chemistry Students with an Immersive Virtual Reality Experience. Journal of Chemical Education, 98(6), 2104–2108.
Ramirez, J. A., & Bueno, A. M. V. (2020). Learning organic chemistry with virtual reality. 2020 IEEE International Conference on Engineering Veracruz (ICEV), Engineering Veracruz (ICEV), 2020 IEEE International Conference On, 1–4. https://0-doi-org.biblioteca-ils.tec.mx/10.1109/ICEV50249.2020.9289672
Sousa, R., Campanari, R.A. y Rodrigues, A.S. (2021). La realidad virtual como herramienta para la educación básica y profesional. Revista científica general José María Córdova (19) 33. 223-241. DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.21830/19006586.728
Edited by Rubí Román (firstname.lastname@example.org) - Observatory of Educational Innovation.
Translation by Daniel Wetta.