By Michael Telek

To establish a more engaging learning experience that builds deeper connections for students, New Brunswick Public Schools is going beyond the traditional scope of curriculum design. Students and teachers there are now using virtual reality (VR) headsets to enhance lessons. 

Equipped with either the Oculus Quest 2 or Verizon’s Class VR, students can be in an immersive environment with their studies. Science class can take place on the surface of Mars. Readers are transported to the setting of their favorite novels. Math comes alive with learners using interactive models. These are just a small sample of the possibilities. 

“We can make an impossible situation for our students possible,” said Virginia L. Hill, Assistant Superintendent of Curriculum and Instruction. “Being introduced to this 3-D world for learning which goes beyond the two dimensions they are used to in the classroom. It’s what gave us some more buy-in to try and bring this into the classroom to motivate students.” 

Superintendent Dr. Aubrey Johnson has a simple and straightforward vision for the district, “To Prepare, Empower, and Inspire lifelong learners and leaders.” Ensuring that happens requires an eye on the cutting edge of education. Becoming early adopters of emerging technologies and seeing if they deliver positive learning outcomes. 

Instantly we started to make connections thinking about curriculum. This could be a field trip, or we could go here, or try this,” said Director of Digital Learning and Instruction Carla Segarra. “We started to throw out all these ideas in part of the excitement. With that comes the work of ‘How do we bring this in the classroom?’ 


New Brunswick teachers testing out the VR headsets.

New Brunswick teachers getting their hands on the virtual reality headset.

Those conversations are crucial because no teacher wants unnecessary, additional work on their plate. New Brunswick leadership was strategic and intentional with how they introduced VR to their schools. It started in the Summer where administrators and teachers got to take in a lesson with the headsets on and provide feedback. They soon discovered this could be a boost to their lessons, not a burden. 

“New Brunswick Public Schools have evolved their learning strategy in ways that emphasize both the novelty of VR and its effectiveness as a learning tool. By accessing the intrinsic motivation of students, teachers can help them engage in deeper, generative learning,” said Courtney Francis MS, Education Technologist and former Director of Product Development at the IFL. 

VR is simply a tool. No different than a pencil or projector. The tool only matters if it can amplify an educators’ teachings. 

“The first exposure was to raise interest, (we told everyone) let’s just have fun. The second exposure was then accompanied with a lesson plan, with possible student and teacher moves,” said Hill. “What are we expecting from teachers? How are students expected to respond? It was specific to engaging in deeper learning, so administrators knew what to look for when seeing this tool being used in a content area.”  

Early results are positive with both teachers and students being amazed at what these headsets can do. Hill and Segarra made it clear this wouldn’t be possible without everyone coming together and sharing their thoughts. They also stressed providing ample time and space to introduce VR to the stakeholders involved. At all New Brunswick schools, there is an enrichment period provided where students can test the tool and learn more about how it can supplement their learning. 


Verizon VR's TimePod A journey across time and space to Mars in 2024 to help solve a series of crises as Earth begins its full colonization of the red planet.

Verizon VR’s TimePod gives students the ability to walk on Mars.

“It’s an interactive way of learning. We’re seeing an increase in motivation. When students hear their teacher is trying a VR lesson in their classroom, we’re getting 100% attendance in that class. That’s a plus that’s allowing us to go beyond the learning,” said Hill.  

Another important step? Do your research. There may be obvious questions like how the technology will connect to your network or which application best fits the lesson, but don’t forget that all students have different cognitive needs. The headset on an elementary student will not be the same for a student in high school.  

“They’re doing the right thing by considering the needs of students at different levels. It’s important not to rely on technology to fill gaps in instruction; the kind of intentionality New Brunswick demonstrates is just as necessary with VR as it is with any other instructional tool,” said Francis. 

While they continue to pilot this program, don’t expect the metaverse to take over reality at New Brunswick Public Schools anytime soon. 

“As technology progresses, education has to change with it,” said Segarra. “Do I imagine us in VR the whole time, no. But I could see meeting spaces, kids doing simulations or creating artwork in that space. That’s the idea. They’re making something, being reflective and sharing with others. That’s a huge piece I’d like to see.”