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St. Paul’s students tour Holy Land with virtual reality gear

Pastor using VR in school

Submitted photo St. Paul’s Lutheran School eighth-grader Ben Price tours Holy Land sites including Nazareth and Bethlehem with Oculus Quest, a virtual reality headset. Teacher Pastor Rob Guenther called the event “an immersive, multi-sensory experience” for students using the headset and for others who watched it mirrored on a classroom screen.

NEW ULM — St. John’s Lutheran Church Pastor Rob Guenther recently began experimenting with virtual reality (VR) equipment in his catechism classroom at St. Paul’s Lutheran School.

With the rapid advancement of technology, he hopes to be on the front end of finding ways to use VR for education. He said over time, the cost of the technology will drop while quality improves.

Guenther said a church member recently bought an Oculus Quest headset for himself to play video games on it, and thought students would really enjoy it and contacted Guenther.

“I connected with (Mankato) Bethany Lutheran College students and got the addresses of places we could (virtually) visit (in school),” Guenther said.

On Dec. 11, Guenther brought Oculus Quest to school and “took” his students to Nazareth and Bethlehem, including touring the Church of the Annunciation, where the angel Gabriel is believed to have appeared and announced to Mary that she should have a baby, our Savior, Jesus, and to see where he was born.

“They (students) ‘stood’ in those spots and, in some cases, walked around,” Guenther said. “One student wore the headset in an immersive experience while others watched it being mirrored to the screen in front of the classroom.”

Guenther said his students enjoyed the experience a great deal because it’s “completely immersive.” He thinks VR can be used to improve learning.

“You can point, click and teleport to a new spot. Making experiences immersive and multi-sensory, lessons will be burned into the memories of students,” said Guenther. “You can tour the whole church inside and outside, including gardens and statues, that signify every part of different cultures. It’s kind of like an art museum. Each piece of art is from a different location in the world…Spain, Asia, Mexico.”

Guenther said students took turns taking 15-minute tours.

“We’re looking at rolling out more to teach the faith, so it’s kind of cool,” he said. “I recorded people at church, using a 3D camera. For homebound people, using a headset, it looks like they’re in church for a morning service. In these COVID times, we can bring things to people who can’t go there right now.”

Guenther said he thinks the new VR gear will become as common as cell phones soon.

“We’re looking for new ways to use virtual reality and “go” to new places,” he said. “If we can’t take students on field trips right now with COVID-19 restrictions, we can bring the field trips to students.”

(Fritz Busch can be emailed at fbusch@nujournal.com).

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