New 'Virtual Reality' and 'eSports' lab makes learning more fun for students

John Robertson works with a student in the virtual reality and eSports lab at Tipton High School. (WTHR Staff)

TIPTON COUNTY, Ind. (WTHR) — It's a brave new world. Tipton High School has a new virtual reality and eSports lab. It's fun, and the students are learning a lot and making new friends along the way.

Tipton High School’s virtual reality and eSports lab cost more then $40,000 to fully implement.

Tipton High School student playing games in the new lab. (WTHR Staff)

"It could not have turned out any better than this. I honestly had this vision in my brain, and it’s basically become exactly that,” said John Robertson, Tipton High teacher.

Mr. Robertson, or "Rob" as students call him, wants education to be fun. He embraces new technology. That’s why he even put his own money into this new technology lab, and the school had to chip in money too. Robertson spent money on paint for the room and put his own sweat equity in too.

The room was entirely re-done. It used to serve as their old television studio for the school, but new floors were put in, walls were re-painted and then the expensive equipment was brought in. As you might expect, the “VR” sets were the most expensive, but Robertson said many of the “VR” experiences and games are free.

The largest chunk of money to make this happen came from the Tipton County Foundation. The staff admits $35,000 was a large grant for them to gift, but they saw the passion in Robertson’s dream. He had to write a plan, and even produced a video, pitching his vision to education grant makers to earn the education fund.

Student experimenting with VR in the Tipton High School lab. (WTHR Staff)

Now that the room is finished, students fill the lab to learn about cutting edge technology and to be part of the new Tipton High eSports club.

“If I give a kid a reason to come to school, like 'if I do a good job in my classes, I can have this free time to do something I like', that encourages them to do what they should be doing anyway,” Robertson said.

The virtual reality lab is used in many classes. It’s open for teachers to reserve and be used as a tool in teaching their course material.

For health, it can take students to the operating table.

In history courses, it helps students see events studied in class ... come to life. It can transport students, at least virtually, to witness events in a visceral experience.

Tipton High School student working with VR. (WTHR Staff)

“It's really eye-opening. Like, new experiences that you've never seen before, and it's a really amazing experience,” said Graham Burton, a 10th grader at Tipton.

Of course, it didn't come without some skepticism from parents, perhaps questioning the value of video games and virtual reality in school.

"Parents, once they see it, have really been about it, and they're really proud it's in our school. We had parents come in and do ‘VR’ and they're like 'this is cool, I wish we had this when I was in school,'" says Robertson.

Burton thinks every school could benefit from ‘VR’ leaning, “it's one of the coolest things I've ever done."

ESports teams are new at Tipton High School as well. Tipton competes against other local schools in video games. The team is also trying to change the stereotype of gamers.

37 percent of the students in the club are female. (WTHR staff)

“If you look around at who plays our games, we have 37 percent female in our club. We have people from all sorts of different cliques coming in. So, it's not just one group of people,” said Robertson.

Karly Cruzan admits she wasn’t a gamer before, but she was encouraged by some friends to try out Tipton’s eSports team and now, she’s made new friends.

"It's like we're a little family … we talk outside of school, we have this little group chat, and we're just all so silly with each other, and it's just the best," she said.

The eSports club meets twice a week after school to prepare for local competitions.

Cruzan is also quick to point out, you don't have to be a lifelong gamer to be good.

"No, there are people that came, and they're gonna be playing on our eSports teams here that just learned when this lab was put in, from people who have been playing before, so it kind of brought us all together," Cruzan said.

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