‘There is no frigate’ like a VR headset

Remember field trips? Typically, they involved piling on a bus and going to a local museum, zoo, or planetarium for a whole, glorious day.

In an era of standardized testing, many schools limit field trips to only one or two each year. For students at schools in rural or high-poverty areas, such opportunities are even more rare due to a lack of nearby destinations and shrinking school budgets.

Meanwhile, students from wealthier families have always had the ability outside of school to walk through historic cities, browse museums, watch theatrical productions, and experience ecosystems that don’t look like home.

Now, a Florida entrepreneur is bringing back the school field trip through virtual reality. And to paraphrase Emily Dickinson, “there is no frigate … nor any coursers like a page” that can mimic the real thing like virtual reality.

Optima ED recently unveiled a flagship social VR application, Optima Imaginare. Billed as a “cutting-edge resource,” it will be available to school districts, independent schools, and charter schools to offer educational field trips without anyone ever physically leaving the campus.

“Our VR field trips are a powerful tool to engage students on a whole new level while providing educational experiences that help them see the relevance of what they’re studying,” said Adam Mangana, executive director of Optima ED and a co-founder of Optima Classical Academy, which he and the staff describe as the world’s first VR charter school. “Optima Imaginare was brought to life by our passion for classical education and technology. Rather than simply providing a transfer of knowledge, our continued goal is to increase the level of context and understanding of a child’s education through these immersive experiences.”

Scholars will have the unique opportunity to put on an Oculus headset, enter a virtual world, and travel back in time to experience the grandeur of Ancient Rome, consult with President John F. Kennedy as he navigates the Cuban Missile Crisis, or even travel to Norway to experience the Northern Lights.

They can go to Independence Hall in Philadelphia for the signing of the Declaration of Independence or help American revolutionists from 1773 toss tea into Boston Harbor.  They even can travel to the moon. While students are in each of these virtual realities, they are fully present and wholly engaged in educational discourse with instructors and peers.

The service is available by subscription, with prices starting at $299 per year for the Explorer plan, $399 for the Pioneer plan, and $499 for the Trailblazer plan. Additionally, there are five tailored, guided experiences. All packages include teacher training.

An easy-to-use user interface and design are essential components of the technology. Optima Imaginare ensures that all students and teachers have easy access to the content, keeping the learning experience the top priority.

A recent six-week case study on student use of Optima Imaginare found that it successfully delivered clear, measurable education metrics by keeping students engaged, focused, and motivated – all while providing learning experiences they will remember for a lifetime.

Optima Classical Academy founder Erika Donalds said her team is incredibly passionate about this educational resource and eager to put it in the hands of as many schools and students as possible.

“Through our data, we’ve seen that these VR field trips help students with learning mastery and concept retention more efficiently than traditional learning methods,” Donalds said. “Until now, schools were limited by where you could physically travel to by land or air, which was holding students back. We created this product and the world’s first VR charter school, Optima Classical Academy, in hopes to give students experiential learning like no other.”

Donalds, a former Collier County School Board member and education choice advocate, discussed this and the advantages of education savings accounts on a recent podcast with Step Up For Students president Doug Tuthill, who lamented that many students at St. Petersburg High, where he was a teacher, had never had an opportunity to visit the beach despite it being only minutes away.

“This is leveling the playing field,” Donalds said.

Optima ED will begin offering Optima Imaginare VR field trips to businesses, school districts, independent schools, and others this fall.

Avatar photo

BY Lisa Buie

Lisa Buie is senior reporter for reimaginED. The daughter of a public school superintendent, she spent more than a dozen years as a reporter and bureau chief at the Tampa Bay Times before joining Shriners Hospitals for Children — Tampa, where she served for nearly five years as marketing and communications manager. She lives with her husband and their teenage son, who has benefited from education choice.