26 September 2023

Virtual reality opens young eyes to bushfires

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Youngsters across South Australia are being taught how to survive bushfires through a new virtual reality (VR) experience developed by the University of South Australia (UniSA).

Project Researcher and Professor of Environmental Science at UniSA, Delene Weber said the VR experience educated children about bushfires and helped them learn how to be safer during a bushfire incident.

“When you live in the driest State in the driest country in the world, bushfires are an unfortunate and all-too-regular part of life,” Professor Weber said.

“Learning how to survive such emergencies is important for all people, but especially for our youngest citizens.”

She said the project, focused on children aged 10-12 years, presented a scenario where children were tasked to look after a friend’s dog just before a fire event began to unfold.

“They participate in a series of problem-solving activities to help save and protect themselves and the dog,” Professor Weber said.

“The findings showed that more than 80 per cent of children agreed or strongly agreed that they felt more confident to calmly evaluate the options and make wise decisions to protect themselves from a bushfire,” she said.

“This is especially significant considering that 91 per cent of participants originally lacked any knowledge of fires and that 67 per cent had said that they were too young to make safety decisions in a fire.”

Professor Weber said the research demonstrated how immersive VR experiences could deliver significant positive learning outcomes for primary school children, independent of their gender, background knowledge or perceived ability to respond to bushfire hazards.

“VR has enormous potential to teach children about emergencies,” she said.

“As digital natives, they are engaged by technology, so when it’s immersive – as it is with VR – they can experience events realistically, yet within safe parameters.”

The UniSA Research Article, Shaping Children’s Knowledge and Response to Bushfire Through Use of an Immersive Virtual Learning Environment, can be accessed at this PS News link.

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