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Virtual Reality Classroom to Explore Life and Works of Robert Burns

Ross Kelly


Robert Burns

The experience will allow students to explore the legacy of Scotland’s best-known bard.

As Scots the world over prepare to celebrate Burns Night, a new virtual reality project will enable people to explore the life, legacy and best-known titles of Robert Burns.

Through the VR education platform, Edify, which has been developed as part of a collaboration with the University of Glasgow and Sublime, users will be able to celebrate the 225th anniversary of Burns’ death in a very modern fashion.

Whether you travel back in time to the Alloway Kirk on a haunted night or join a live lesson examining one of Burns’ iconic poems, the edify platform will allow users to immerse themselves in a range of Burns-related activities.

Dr Pauline Mackay from the University of Glasgow’s Centre for Robert Burns Studies has worked closely with edify VR experts to bring the festivities to life and create a virtual lesson on Scotland’s national bard.

Performing from a virtual classroom at Alloway Auld Kirk in Ayrshire, Mackay will teach live lessons exploring the material culture that Burns’ fame has generated, with a specific focus on the supernatural epic, Tam o’Shanter.

The first live lesson will be hosted via Zoom on Saturday 30th, and it is hoped this will be the first in a series to a broad international audience of school children, students, academics and Burns’ admirers.

Since the onset of the coronavirus pandemic last year, the popularity of communications platforms such as Zoom or Microsoft Teams has skyrocketed. Currently, schoolchildren across the country are continuing their studies via remote communications platforms.

Tapping in on the current virtual boom, edify has combined VR technology with video conferencing to allow teachers and students to explore and learn in virtual environments.

Through the edify platform, anyone is able to dial-in to an instructor’s 3D lab or classroom environment.

Dr Mackay believes the project could help break new ground and showcase the potential of virtual reality in learning.

“Edify’s immersive technology will enable a host of relevant objects from disparate locations to be brought together and examined in the context of Burns’s most iconic poem, ‘Tam o’ Shanter’, in the environment that inspired the work, Alloway Auld Kirk, complete with the resplendent imagery of the poem,” she said.

“In a sense, it enables us to create a comprehensive ‘site of memory’, which is a real game changer in terms of the way we teach memory studies, and for the way people learn about the legacy and commemoration of important literary and historical figures.”


The Burns lesson is the latest VR classroom to be created on the platform. Already, the platform is being used for students studying topics including physics, history and anatomy.

Fergus Bruce, edify’s Director of Education Partnerships said the project offers an exciting chance to experience the power of virtual reality in education, as well as gaining a deeper insight into the life and works of Scotland’s national bard.

“VR allows teachers and students alike to go anywhere, and to do anything when you get there,” he commented

“Edify’s mission is to enable anybody with internet access to learn using the enormous flexibility, scope, and nuance these superpowers deliver, and we are thrilled to be continuing our partnership with the University as we roll edify out to teachers, students, and institutions worldwide.”

As well as being able to take part in a lesson on ‘Tam o’ Shanter’ from the virtual Alloway Auld Kirk, students will also be able to explore the legacy of Burns and his poetry, which has captured the hearts of millions globally.

Mackay and edify worked closely with the National Trust for Scotland Robert Burns Birthplace Museum as part of the extended project.

Dr David Hopes, Head of Collections and Interiors for the National Trust for Scotland, hopes the lessons will showcase Burns’ legacy to a wider global audience.

“As custodians of the birthplace of Burns and the setting for his great poem, Tam o’ Shanter, The National Trust for Scotland is delighted to be involved in this cutting-edge initiative to make the place and its unique material heritage available for learning and inspiration.”

Ross Kelly

Staff Writer

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