Schools Use VR For Drug And Alcohol Education

Schools Use VR For Drug And Alcohol Education
May 14, 2017
PHOTO: Year 10 student Brodie Newton tries on the VR headset to attend a virtual party. (ABC News: Emilia Terzon)


How do you educate teenagers about the dangers of drinking and taking drugs in a way that isn't boring and doesn't involve long notetaking lectures from teachers?


In Queensland, a trial has kicked off that allows students to virtually attend a party and decide how many drinks they will have — along with experiencing the repercussions.


The Griffith University project is called Blurred Minds, and the game, Perfect Pour, will be rolled out to 20 independent Catholic schools across the state.


The first school to take part in the trial is a school in Cairns, St Mary's Catholic College.


In the school library, Year 10 students, including Brodie Newton, stumble around in bulky virtual reality headsets as they attended an 'underage party'.


Griffith University researcher Timo Dietrich described the scenario as "a bit crazy".

PHOTO: Griffith University researcher Dr Timo Dietrich tries out new technology on Year 10 students in Cairns. (ABC News: Emilia Terzon)

"There's a bunch of kids wearing our world first [virtual reality] masks and they're actually experiencing a virtual reality house party," Dr Dietrich said.

"And they can make decisions by attending a party in the virtual world."


The tough questions for the students in the game are, to drink or not to drink?


When Brodie reaches the point where he has to decide whether or not to have a drink, he uses his eyes movements and decides, "I'm gonna take a drink".


The virtual reality game has been almost two years in the making and aims to teach teenagers about responsible drinking and drug taking.


Whether the message from the game will linger with the students' long-term is unclear, but the statewide trial aims to find out.


St Mary's physical education teacher Matt Rattray said it was a different approach to the subject for the school.


"Obviously they're underage so we can't use a lot of props or real aspects," he said.


"So it's a lot of using images and projecting onto a screen."

PHOTO: A glimpse through the VR headset shows students the realities of drinking too much at a party. (Supplied: Blurred Minds)


Lesson: Choose to pre-load, miss the party


After Cairns, 19 other independent Queensland schools will test the technology, with Dr Dietrich and his team taking surveys with students after each trial class.


"So, we're looking at changes across attitudinal measures, behavioural intentions," he said.


"If we can get them to learn how to say no or decline a drink, that's what I really want out of this."


"A big problem is pre-loading, so before kids even go to a party they end up meeting and actually start having drinks.


"One of the decisions that they have to make is do they actually want to choose a larger amount of drinking, and we highly discourage that through this adventure.


"So, what happens then [in the game] is that they actually pass out, so they don't even make it to the party."

PHOTO: A Year 10 student at St Mary's Catholic College in Cairns. (ABC News: Emilia Terzon)


Game allows 'learn by doing' lesson


Dr Dietrich said when it came to alcohol and drug education it was difficult to use "learning by doing" techniques.


"Because you can't really give a 15-year-old students alcohol and say hey how does that feel?"


"Here's a virtual world that allows us to actually creates these experiences virtually and actually expose them to some of these cues and risk taking scenarios, without actually the negative consequences of the real-world setting.


"I think VR gives us a tremendous opportunity to really take education to a whole new level.


"So think about geography lesson where you could take people to a different country. It doesn't just have to be a house party."

PHOTO: Students move through the virtual party, answering questions such as whether they want a drink. (ABC News: Emilia Terzon)


Mr Rattray said the trial allowed students to get an understanding of the effects of what was classified as socially acceptable or harmless drugs.


"And how small amounts, or what those limits are and really understand how it impairs coordination and response to certain areas of the body," he said.


"Students are technologically savvy and they like to be doing things where they are engaging and anything where they're able to do, the learning always is amplified."


Another of the students involved in the trial, Anneliese Powell, described what she was seeing while wearing the VR headset.


"There's lights everywhere and like beer pong. Drunk people like on the floor, all passed out," she said.


Anneliese makes the decision to have three drinks.


"The vision becomes a bit distorted and its shaking a bit," she said.


"[It's showing] the dangers of drinking and what the effects they can have on you."

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