Earlier this year, Janiya, a fifth grader at Cochran Elementary School, struggled with public speaking.
So she strapped on an Oculus Go virtual reality headset, and began giving presentations to a ballroom of virtual people. The app she used, Virtual Speech, judged her level of eye contact and tracked how many “hesitation words” she said.
Thursday morning, she explained how much she benefitted from the app to a crowded room of real adults, maintaining eye contact and without a nerve in sight.
Bet you couldn’t have given that speech at the start of the year, teacher-in-residence and lab leader Shannon Putman said to Janiya, who shakes her head no while smiling.
Janiya is one of several Cochran students utilizing the school’s virtual reality lab, which students began using months ago but was publicly unveiled Thursday morning. The University of Louisville partnered with the school, providing funding to create the first VR lab in a Kentucky school.
Students use the lab daily, typically donning a gray Oculus Go headset to step into a different world. Some days, they practice public speaking. Multiple fifth graders said practicing oral presentations will help them when they need to defend their Backpack of Success Skills, the district’s version of a graduate profile, before moving into middle school.
But other times, students can learn empathy. One app lets students live in an African refugee camp, another helps them experience what it is like to be blind. Students in Cochran’s Student Technology Leadership Program used VR technology to helps others become empathetic, too, through an app showing them what it feels like to be bullied.
Of course, there are games, too. One student told the crowd his favorite was “Rush,” a skydiving game that is a little too close to reality for some. Another mimics a roller coaster, which a teacher highly suggested not playing in one of the spinny chairs in the lab.
Now talkative and confident, Janiya said she wants fifth grade to be the best year yet — and the VR lab is definitely helping.