“Today was our first day and it was unbelievable,” Karyn Juntunen said.
Juntunen is a special education teacher for the Copper Country Intermediate School District (CCISD). Tuesday morning, her adult class was the first group of students with autism to try the virtual reality headsets from the Regional Education Media Center Region 1 (REMC1). Since February, REMC has been lending sets of 30 virtual reality headsets to teachers who take a course on how to use them for instruction.
“It’s pretty much always out,” REMC1 Director Mike Richardson said.
Juntunen’s class has been learning about travel. Monday they learned about travel planning and expenses. On Tuesday they carefully tried the virtual headsets to learn about places to go traveling. At first, Juntunen started them off on the floor in case they lost their balance or moved unexpectedly while wearing the headsets. Juntunen said she wasn’t sure how students with autism would react to wearing the virtual reality headsets. When the first student tested the waters, she got an unexpectedly positive response.
“He just said ‘Wow’,” Juntunen said.
One of the places they virtually visited was Greenland, to see icebergs. Using a tablet, Juntunen can trigger a guide which directs the students’ attention to different points of interest.
“They were so engaged, it was awesome,” she said.
They also visited monuments in Washington, D.C., and through the week they plan on visiting the rainforest and the North Pole using the virtual reality headsets. Juntunen is learning ways to accommodate the needs of students with autism when they use the headsets.
Not using the head strap lets them pull the goggles away from their eyes if they get overwhelmed. If they don’t like to move while wearing the headset, Juntunen is trying setting them in an office chair so they can turn or move the student to see what the others students see.
TOMORROW: Like educators everywhere, the new virtual reality technology now available is causing local education officials to think about how they can apply it in the classroom.