Using Virtual Reality to Reduce Anxiety at Arc Oakbridge
Arc Oakbridge School offers places for young people aged 7 to 16 and with a primary need of high functioning autism (ASC), including Asperger’s and associated complex needs. Set in the heart of the city centre in Birmingham, the school has embraced innovative technology to help its pupils address challenges they may experience, and in doing so, help them achieve better outcomes.
The school’s mission is to develop confident and capable young people by meeting their educational, health and social care needs in a nurturing school environment, bespoke designed to create an ASC-friendly learning space enhanced technology.
Class sizes are very small and classrooms are ‘enabling environments’ with sensory lighting, muted colours, individual work stations and visual timetables. Cutting edge technology, including virtual reality, is used effectively as part of both the transition to the school and in teaching and support on an everyday basis.
The journey begins before a child has come to Arc Oakbridge School when a senior staff member will visit the child in their current school or at home with a VR headset which includes a virtual walkthrough of Oakbridge, its environment and facilities. This helps children reduce their anxiety about coming along to the school and enables them to ask any questions they may have, all while using a medium which is engaging and exciting to them.
Once a child is at Oakbridge, the VR headsets continue to be used to help them reduce anxiety and help them embrace new experiences and challenges. For example, if the school has a trip planned to a particular venue – or even plans to use an external venue for a lesson, a staff member will attend in advance with the 360 degree camera, photograph all aspects of the venue and the journey there and back, and upload to the VR software.
The children then can use the headsets to understand what their experience will be like, and reduce their anxiety. This has prevented may children experiencing upset, or indeed prevented them from not attending at all.
The headsets are also used to enhance teaching and learning, which has been of particular help while COVID-19 restrictions may have reduced pupils’ ability to learn outside of the classroom. The headsets are regularly used to enhance science, English and other lessons using the “virtual” world to complement teaching. This can be particularly useful when children are learning about complex topics where being visually immersed can really enhance their understanding.
The school has also embraced technology elsewhere to further engage learners including the use of the Class Dojo system. Many of the young people at Oakbridge have previously been school refusers, or reluctant learners, and the engaging use of Class Dojo to record in a fun, interactive and visual way what their achievements have been, has been particularly successful.
Finally, the school’s environment also benefits from the use of innovative technology where adjustable lighting is installed throughout to help create calming spaces to learn.
This article is available and can be accessed in Spanish here.