Cultural divisiveness is tearing at the fabric of our local and global communities. We have witnessed its symptoms of mistrust, fear, and even violence manifest themselves daily—from racial injustice to the rise of Islamophobia and the xenophobic backlash in response to the refugee crisis. At the same time, our human communities are widening and technology has made us more interconnected than ever. How can we cultivate empathy and unity in and across our classrooms as a way to combat the harmful rhetoric of difference and exclusion?
For the last eighteen years, Global Nomads Group has fostered dialogue and understanding among youth from different cultures around the world. Through our virtual exchange programs, we’ve connected classrooms across the globe and helped young people to develop meaningful affinities, resulting in global collaborations and intercultural friendships.
This year, we are excited to announce the launch of our Virtual Reality Lab. Virtual reality has the ability to transport students to the other side of the world at the press of a button, facilitating the cultural exchange that enables them to develop an understanding of the world through another’s point of view. Such experiences broaden our horizons, nurture a plurality of perspectives, and re-shape the way we think about those whose lives seem so different from our own.
These experiences are powerful teaching tools. Lauren Childs, an educator at View Park High School, in Los Angeles, describes the transformative effect of the connections that virtual realty-based instruction can inspire.
Our first introduction to GNG was through Project Syria in Spring 2015. Through the GNG curriculum, my students researched the Syrian civil war. At first, many students did not even know there was a conflict in Syria, much less how it impacted them or what they could do to help. Not only did my students become more aware of global events, but they began to develop empathy and a desire to intervene in conflicts that impact not only themselves, but their peers. The VR experience had the most impact as my students were put into situations faced by many Syrian refugees. Before the VR experience the situation in Syria still seemed distant and obscure to the students. The VR brought students into a bombing on a street corner and the chaos of the refugee camps and the situation suddenly became a lot more real. We then connected with a classroom of Syrian refugees, our program partners, and understood their experience for ourselves. My students really began to feel not only a sense of urgency, but that they could and should care about events occurring on the other side of the world. As a history teacher I have always struggled with how to get my students to empathize with the past and understand how past events do still impact us today. The fully immersive VR curriculum developed by GNG are excellent at dropping students into unfamiliar situations, allowing them to explore those situations, and get an authentic feel for what was happening. VR is like the time machine/teleport system teachers have always lamented not having!
GNG’s VR Lab will curate a collection of VR curriculum, tagged by theme and designed for the classroom. GNG will also support educators with targeted professional development opportunities to ensure that they know how to effectively use the technology. We invite you to explore our VR Lab and join us in building a generation of global citizens who are empathetic, aware, and motivated to take action to solve some of the world’s most pressing issues.