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In Australia, a new VR experience helps children prepare for bushfires

An immersive VR experience designed at the University of South Australia aims to make children better prepared to act safely during bushfires.

Once they've donned a VR headset, kids find themselves taking care of a friend's dog, Bella, just as a fire unfolds. They're presented with problem-solving activities and the goal of getting themselves and the dog out of harm's way. After completing each task, they receive immediate feedback to reinforce what they've learned.

The educational tool was developed for children aged 10 to 12 and is part of a PhD project by Safa Molan. Her research suggests that carefully designed immersive VR can engage children and improve their learning outcomes regarding bushfire safety.

Following a trial at Mawson Lakes Primary School, Molan found that over 80% of children felt more confident to calmly evaluate their options and make better decisions to protect themselves from a bushfire.

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Security is one of our most profound human needs. And it's being put to the test by pandemics, wars, natural disasters and economic uncertainty. Building resilience is a powerful way to push back, and VR can strengthen that emotional muscle by helping people rehearse frightening situations.

As Professor Delene Weber, the project's supervisor, explains: "Building resilience before a traumatic event occurs is invaluable, which is where VR can help. VR is empowering children to understand how they can control aspects within a disaster or can cope by themselves, and it helps them build their confidence so that they can contribute positively rather than being afraid."