A/V Technology

A Picture Is Worth More Than A Thousand Words

Imagine being transported to the deepest regions of space, or the nucleus of a cell, or the interior of a human heart. Imagine visiting the Great Wall of China, or Victorian-era London, or the Wright Brothers’ first flight at Kitty Hawk in 1903. Reading about them is one thing; seeing them all around you is something else entirely. One educational virtual reality solution from Avantis Systems aims to provide students with experiences that they—or anyone—would never be able to see in real life.

elementary classroom with students wearing VR headsets 


ClassVR launched in January 2017 and provides thousands of educational VR resources and structured lesson plans that align with elementary-, middle- and high-school curricula nationwide. Resources are available in subjects from art to biology to chemistry to language arts to history—and more. Teachers and students can also upload their own 360-degree images and videos to create their own VR experiences. These immersive, engaging experiences help students visualize the concept at hand, adding a layer of personal experience to their understanding of the subject matter.

West Baton Rouge (WBR) Parish Schools in Port Allen, La., began the process of adopting ClassVR in spring 2021. WBR serves as a Head Start through twelfth-grade district with about 4,200 students and ten schools: five elementary, three middle and two high. The district’s ClassVR program is run by Dr. Tammy Seneca, Supervisor of Information Systems and Educational Technology, and Stephanie Thompson, District Technology Facilitator and Professional Developer.

“The kids really get…it kinda breaks down the walls of the classroom, so kids who don’t necessarily have a lot of travel experience or, for example, if they’re reading a book about the Great Wall of China, you know, nine times out of ten, they haven’t seen the Great Wall of China. But they get to experience it through the ClassVR,” said Seneca. “And so, it really kind of gives them that almost one-to-one kind of feel of what it would be like if they were actually there. I think that’s been the most positive feedback.”

“The teachers are just really excited because the students are so excited,” added Thompson. “They’re just oohing and aahing and ‘Woah, oh my goodness,’ and it just really provides a little bit more concrete examples of what they’re learning about that they don’t have access to.”

One fundamental feature of ClassVR is the way that its content integrates with teachers’ existing lesson plans and curricula. “Our department…for example, when Stephanie’s working with teachers, the first question is, ‘What are you teaching?’ We’re always trying to connect back to the curriculum,” Seneca said.

“The way it works is the teacher on the front end, when they’re doing their lessons, they decide what kind of scenes, what they’re looking for, and they create sort of this playlist,” Thompson said. “And they have a playlist ready to go to show…they flip the kids through different scenes. The students don’t really get to see ahead of time what they’re going to see because the teacher’s controlling it. And so, there’s not a lot of classroom disruption because of that, and it flows pretty easily, with the teacher sort of in control of what students are going to experience in their curriculum.”

In addition to the existing VR scenes and environments, teachers can also use 360-degree cameras to create their own. One high-school environmental science teacher from West Baton Rouge created a rendering of nearby Bluebonnet Swamp. Another group used them to capture images of a variety of plants, insects and birds for identification in class. Finally, one middle school in the district recreated the school itself as an introduction to elementary students coming into the middle school.

“They kind of do a walkthrough tour of, ‘This is what the school’s going to look like. This is how you go up the staircase, this is where you go down this hall for eighth grade, this hallway for seventh grade, this is where the cafeteria is,’” said Thompson. “They’re approaching it more from a hands-on…creating the video, editing the video, they’re adding additional images and text, things like that. So, they’re spending a good amount of time video editing, and then they’re going to load it into ClassVR so they can share it with the elementary kids.”

At West Baton Rouge, all the ClassVR kits are housed in the Technology Department, and individual teachers check them out on a lesson-by-lesson basis. Teachers receive training as the district tech staff visits individual schools’ Professional Learning Communities (PLCs) as well as during summer professional development opportunities and technology challenges.

elementary students using ClassVR 


The district has 128 ClassVR headsets, 16 kits of 8 devices each. Each device has its own label (e.g., “Faithful Alpaca”) for tracking purposes. Teachers checking out a kit for the first time receive an invitation to join the district’s license in the ClassVR portal. They also receive video instructions on how to search for and create playlists. The district uses its in-house mail system for delivery and pickup to individual schools. Seneca and Thompson both noted that, once teachers reach a certain comfort level with the devices, they’ve been training each other and recommending different uses or experiences.

“What we’re also seeing is that the teacher that comes to training, that likes ClassVR, the teacher next to her sees (or he sees) this happening, and they’ve been able to train each other,” said Seneca. “So, they’ll just transfer the devices the next day over to the other classroom, and they’re so easy to use that it’s just that quick.”

“I find a lot of times, I’ll just show one teacher in the group, like a group of third-grade teachers, and they’re all doing the same thing. So once one teacher uses it, she shows the other ones: ‘Hey, y’all gotta do this.’ And then they all are now on board. And so now I’ve got, instead of one teacher who knows, I’ve got five teachers who know how to use it in that little pocket,” Thompson said. “So really, it just kind of grows and spreads like wildfire.”

ClassVR also extends beyond traditional classroom subjects into CTE and wellness. Local companies have approached the district to sponsor advanced VR opportunities in high schools after seeing how they’re used. “We’re working on that as well, to try to get some more, for example, Career Tech Ed, where they do pipe fitting. And they actually learn how to be a pipe fitter with the ClassVR and that kind of stuff,” Seneca said. “And some of that came from me having conversations with this local partner about what we’re doing with ClassVR, and showing them how we’re starting with the younger kids and giving them experiences.”

Experiences are available related to STEM and CTE topics and careers like helicopter pilots, miners, motion capture specialists, surgical training, car factory tours, Tesla factories, gas turbine factories, aircraft carriers, submarines, oil rigs, space stations, refrigerators, washing machines, dishwashers and more.

Even elementary-school guidance counselors have adopted the technology to help with social and emotional learning (SEL). The experience can help students with autism or behavior disorders with regard to calming and cooling off, life skills, social situations, sensory experiences and a wide variety of others.

However, in the district at large, the most popular environments are the ones that give students a glimpse of the world beyond their own experiences. “Space is popular. Habitats have been popular,” said Seneca.

“I feel like they’re really using it with their English Language Arts, seems to be the subject area most used,” said Thompson. “Because every time they go to a new book that they’re going to study, they check them out in order to give them some background knowledge or more information about what they’re going to be reading. So that seems to be the hottest area, is in the ELA classroom. Where, you would think, the history teachers or the science teachers, but they really check it out so much for the ELA. I mean, they check them out in all areas, but I’ll say our hottest spot is through our reading curriculum.”

Seneca added, “We’ve even had art teachers check them out for their art students to go visit the Sistine Chapel and places like that. We have a great picture of the high school kids lying on the floor with them, looking up like the artist did.” Sometimes, though, teachers use the ClassVR technology to give students a bit of old-fashioned fun.

“One of the ones that probably got the most publicity, and in our school district it made it take off, was we did one around Christmastime about Santa Claus,” said Thompson. “The PreK teachers wanted something about the North Pole, and about Santa Claus, and reindeer. And so, we were able to find some great videos. One of them was where it’s taken from the point of view where the student is sitting next to Santa Claus. So, like, if they turned their heads to the left, Santa Claus is sitting there, and in front of them are the reindeer. And then the sleigh takes off, and as they’re taking off, they see London beneath them, the lights and the city beneath them. And those students—” “Those are some great pictures,” chuckled Seneca.

“And it was just great to be in the room with the students because they were just screaming like they’re on a ride with Santa Claus, and it was just so real for them,” said Thompson. “That’s the one that, I think, pushed ClassVR into so many classrooms. Because once one teacher did it, everybody wanted to do it.”

This article originally appeared in the Summer 2022 issue of Spaces4Learning.