Virtual and augmented reality devices are entering our lives and schools. As new technologies enter our lives, we are constantly looking for new ways to make the technology work for us. Quite often, it is simple and straightforward. It is pretty clear how to use virtual or augmented reality for entertainment. Using it for education requires more thinking. This is a guest article by Joan Selby. Before you read it, you may want to ponder about the subject and ask yourself a couple of questions. Here what I asked myself:
- 1. Why VR or AR is different from the regular 2D screens and second screens? Where does the immersion help?
- 2. If VR is so great for visiting various locations and doing virtual labs, why we see so little of old-school apps for the same tasks?
- 3. Would you like your kid to take a VR set to school? Will the VR make our children less grounded and social?
- 4. Where would you like to see annotation to what is in front of you?
- 5. Can you use an imaginary VR universe as your mental palace?
A brief history of virtual reality
The idea of virtual reality had been around for quite some time since the 50s. However, it wasn’t really close to being implemented and used on a regular basis. It was used mainly by scientific institutions and the military in order to provide fighter pilots with accurate flight simulations, and this was far from education institutions and our homes. Nonetheless, things have changed in the past couple of years since VR startups emerged all over the place. And there is plenty of choice for users, too, because they can go with high-end VR headsets, such as Oculus Rift, or pursue an alternative in the shape of Google Cardboard, a cardboard headset which uses your smartphone to provide you with a VR experience. And while some of the VR-related techs is a bit on the pricey side today, it is bound to become affordable for everyone in the next few years., it could change the face of today’s education forever by providing a more immersive and engaging learning experience.
Changing Education with VR Classrooms
There are plenty of visible learning benefits VR can provide students with, according to Sam Ross who works as the head of IT department for BestEssays.com.au:
“For instance, it can help a lot in certain subjects, such as science, medicine, astronomy, physics, history, or music. With VR, we can overcome the limits of time and space. Using VR headsets during history classes, students can explore ancient cities, visit different continents, witness battles and important dates in history. Also, some of the scientific stuff they are currently learning can get pretty abstract and hard to comprehend for most students. They would benefit from being able to view things visually, which would help them grasp more complex concepts, such as the way the bonds between atoms are created and so on.”
Since VR is such an immersive experience, it engages students on a different level, and they will be more likely to remember the stuff they have seen and experience, rather than the lessons they have only read about. For example, with VR, they would be able to visit the entire solar system and recall which planets have rings, because they have witnessed them firsthand. Or they could take a virtual tour of every single museum out there. But, there are plenty of other ways in which VR can improve lecture quality. Students can also benefit from watching lectures by renowned professors and scientist in VR, which is way better than doing the same thing via Skype or some other video conferencing app.
Marketing teacher Cara Harding went a little further and conducted an experiment which would confirm the positive effect VR had on one’s test scores. First, the students were given a test on two subjects they have learned about before: the Solar system and the human body. After completing a test with 10 questions, they were given grades and then they were required to explore those topics in VR. After exploring the topic in virtual reality, they were given the same test. Everyone’s test results went up, along with their grades, which was astounding. But, there was an even more important takeaway, because students were asking more questions, as well as questions which they wouldn’t ask usually. This means they were engaged properly and were thinking actively, as opposed to just memorizing what they have seen.
However, despite experiments like this, there is still not enough data to suggest just how effective VR can be when used for educational purposes. We know it is, but we don’t know exactly how much. We need to have this information in order to be able to use it to its fullest potential. Also, there are still plenty of challenges and obstacles which need to be eliminated in order to make VR an essential part of education. First of all, there are technological and financial limitations, but at the rate the technology is progressing, they will most likely become a non-issue in the few years.
Also, there is the issue of how VR should be used. If we were to use it all the time, which is not very likely, it would eventually lead to burnout, because students would be overwhelmed by the amount of information they have received that way. Most teachers would agree that it should be used to complement existing forms of learning, which means we should use VR on a weekly basis at best. In fact, by not using it all the time, you can motivate the students to work harder and use VR as a reward for all their hard work.
But, there are some areas of education which can benefit immensely from the extensive use of VR. Medical science is just one example. VR can help future doctors practice complex surgeries and tackle a wide variety of scenarios in order to be more prepared for actual challenges in their line of work. It just depends on how well software and hardware will be able to mimic the real-life experience.
VR simulations already have a long history in aviation, since they have been and still are being used to train both commercial and fighter pilots. Mind you, these simulations are highly accurate. They have to be because every pilot needs to be properly trained in order to bear responsibility for the lives of a couple hundred people aboard the plane. If VR simulations were the reach the same level in other areas, such as medical science, as we have already mentioned, it could save countless lives.
VR may very well change the concept of learning forever. 20 years ago, we couldn’t have imagined a world where social media exists. But it does, and it has changed the way we interact with each other significantly. The same can be said for digital communications, and platforms like Skype or Viber, which enable us to see each other, no matter where we are in the world. With VR, the traditional concept of being the same room with other students while the teacher gives lectures may become a thing of the past. VR classrooms can feature any number of students, and guest lecturers from anywhere in the world, which is definitely a change for the better. Visual nature of VR can even be used as a teaching alternative for students with learning disabilities.
There is no way of telling which areas of life, as well as industrial sectors, will be affected by the use VR, but there is no doubt that this technology is here to stay. It will definitely find its place and it will be implemented in the workplace of the future. That alone is reason enough for us to start using VR in education so that we can prepare students for the future, and make sure they are technologically literate.
Until all of the potential issues are solved, Google is bringing VR closer to schools, as part of its Pioneer Expeditions project. Every school participating in this program will be able to set up a VR experience for its students for one day. This includes absolutely everything ranging from smartphones, Google Cardboard, tablets for the teacher to a router which can run virtual tours without an internet connection and over 100 different tours, such as the Moon or the Great Wall of China.
Virtual reality will definitely permeate every pore of our society sooner or later, and that includes education, which means we need to be prepared for it. And we should embrace it because it can provide an incredibly immersive and engaging experience for students. It should become an educational tool. But, only time will be able to tell to which extent we will end up using it. One thing is for sure: VR is a very, very exciting technology.
Joan Selby is a creative writer and ESL teacher interested in digital marketing and tech. Joan Selby has been working as a private ESL tutor in Monterey, California, for 6 years. In her free time, Joan enjoys playing the guitar and songwriting. Drop her a line on Facebook or Twitter!