Students take a virtual field trip to places textbooks can’t

Deepark Middle School students learn about Pakistan through virtual reality. (KXAN Photo/Paul Shelton)
Deepark Middle School students learn about Pakistan through virtual reality. (KXAN Photo/Paul Shelton)

AUSTIN (KXAN) — The distance from Austin to Pakistan is just over 8,000 miles, but that isn’t stopping students from getting an immersive education experience about the country’s culture and history.

The students at Round Rock Independent School District’s Deerpark Middle School are using virtual reality technology — made possible by two local startups — to take a virtual field trip to Pakistan.

For student Ryan Kilgo, it was his first time interacting with virtual reality. “I thought it was really cool because I got to see the top of the temple and it looked like there were diamonds above my head,” Kilgo said, reflecting on his experience.

“Virtual reality is a super exciting thing to bring into the classroom but, what we do that’s different, is combining that with a global connection,” Founder of PenPal Schools Joe Troyen told KXAN. “Kids are actually able to go through these reality field trips together with their pen pals from around the world.”

Deepark Middle School students learn about Pakistan through virtual reality. (KXAN Photo/Paul Shelton)
Deepark Middle School students learn about Pakistan through virtual reality. (KXAN Photo/Paul Shelton)

Austin-based organization PenPal Schools connects more than 100,000 students in 170 countries through online curriculum. PenPal Schools worked with Austin-based VR Creative Agency Chocolate Milk & Donuts to bring the new virtual reality education course to schools worldwide. Troyen and Ricky Holm first connected two years ago, starting up at Austin’s Capital Factory.

“For kids here in America and around the world, it’s an incredible opportunity to learn and say ‘Hey, I just learned this about Pakistan in the video, is that really what it’s like there?’” Troyen said. He believes these programs are vital especially since the recent U.S. travel ban of citizens from some Muslim countries. “It’s more important than ever to build understanding and eliminate fear.”

Troyen said the students in Pakistan are eager to share their experiences and show off a side of their country most people don’t get the opportunity to see.

Deerpark Middle School teacher Holly Pazos said, “They feel like they’re actually there. Sometimes they’re like, ‘Oh my gosh, I’m gonna fall off the steps!’ Or whatever it is, but they totally just think they’re there while we’re doing the lesson.”

The VR field trip to Pakistan Troyen shared is the first of many.

“The next that we have planned to film is right here in Austin, Texas. People around the world are very eager to connect with Americans, to practice their English and to learn about America.”

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