Schools have been attempting to use crude versions of virtual reality since the 80’s, but in recent years we’ve seen it implemented quite successfully. With the price of VR dropping drastically and the quality improving, virtual reality classes could soon be a reality.
VR isn’t just a gimmick either; immersive environments can help us to better understand the world around us in a way that words of videos can’t. Over the coming years, virtual reality is going to become further integrated into both the curriculum and extracurricular activities.
Virtual reality is often explained as a computer-generated environment that is entirely immersive, replacing our actual reality. This means that you must be able to control the situation, see it visually and also hear it.
The simplest way to achieve this is to wear a headset that blocks your vision of the outside world and immerses you into a screen. In this way, you can transport students into a different environment, and they will feel as if they are there.
With the most simplistic and crude versions of VR, it’s easy to disregard it as a gimmick or a fad that adds no real value to the classroom. However, the latest technology allows students to see and interact with realistic environments.
The key is to use VR as an interactive and fun learning tool. After all, it’s far easier to convince a child to concentrate, interact and listen to an audio recording explaining how a rocket works if they can see it, interact with it and focus on it.
Within the curriculum, virtual reality education is most useful for subjects that deal with abstract topics which we struggle to relate to. A few examples of this might be physics, anatomical biology, and molecular chemistry. Each of these subjects tackles topics that we can’t physically see, interpret or understand. Simple arithmetic is made easier by the use of counters which we can move into groups to identify addition or subtraction, but with these subjects, it isn’t as easy.
But virtual reality education gives us the chance to put students inside of the body, within a chemical reaction or an element, so that they can understand the components. Even outside of the realm of science there are clear applications. Rather than reading a book and then watching a movie after, imagine if you could have the audiobook read through a headset while you walk through the scenes.
By giving the students control you can empower them, something that we recognize that teenagers require and therefore encourage them to learn. The goal of VR should not be to replace all standard teaching methods, but to enhance them and to make it easier for the student to learn.
It’s important that we don’t limit virtual reality education to just the classroom. Where VR shines is in its ability to tackle complex topics and to make them more interactive. One example that is regularly given is school trips. While some school trips are exciting and keep children captivated, the vast majority are incredibly dull. Unless the children are interested in the museum they are visiting, it’s unlikely they’ll take much from the visit.
Virtual reality stretches the gap between fun and learning, making a somewhat dull museum visit into an interactive and immersive journey through time. Nearly every extracurricular activity can be improved using virtual reality. In the future, we might be able to have virtual field trips with schools from other countries, where students can meet and learn from each other’s experiences. No longer will students be cross-continent pen pals, instead, they can meet face to face and learn from each other.
Even within school clubs, there are obvious uses for virtual reality. The football team might run through tactics virtually, seeing exactly what the coach wants them to do, at what angle and at a given speed. Even the chess team could play virtual games against other schools from around the world, seeing the chess board virtually rather than just on a screen.
The problem that schools face currently is not in the uses of virtual reality education but the correct implementation of it within the classroom. Although headsets have dropped in price drastically over the past few years, they are still relatively expensive.
That doesn’t even factor in the cost of developing or licensing software, or the repair or replacement of headsets that will inevitably be damaged by the children. Unfortunately, the real problem is that a lot of schools can’t justify the cost of bringing VR to their students, even though they would like to.
As well as the cost of the equipment teachers would need to be trained in using the headsets, the software and also fixes any fundamental technical errors. All in all, it’s going to be relatively expensive and time-consuming to implement VR into schools. That shouldn’t come as much surprise because some schools are still using blackboards and many even don’t use laptops or computers within their teaching.
Virtual reality is a relatively new industry, and we know for sure that the cost of headsets will continue to fall. Only this week Facebook announced that they would be releasing a $200 Oculus headset which will bring VR within reach of a lot of schools.
Google has also extended their Google Pioneer program which lends virtual reality equipment to schools for a day so that their students can experience journeys around the universe. It seems likely that within the next decade we will see VR becoming a pivotal part of teaching in the same way that laptops have. The focus is expected to be in the hard sciences at first where students often struggle the most, but as the technology advances, there is no reason that it couldn’t be used for every subject.
Currently VR Vision Inc. is working with a few schools to roll out both hardware and custom VR applications to the classroom. If you would like more information from us to see if it something that would fit within your curriculum, please get in touch with us and we can discuss your school’s specific needs in more detail.