New Frontiers: The Growing Impact of Virtual Reality in Education

Virtual Reality in Education
Contributed By

Melody Buschur

Contributing Writer

New Frontiers: The Growing Impact of Virtual Reality in Education

Posted in News | February 26, 2018

Technology is now a part of the forefront of education with its seemingly limitless stronghold of every aspect in a person’s daily life. Today’s society has become permanently attached to what it can provide; therefore, it is more than necessary to involve technology in education. Now that digital tools are an integral aspect of classrooms around the world, a new frontier of edtech is emerging—virtual reality (VR).

It is easy to see the value of VR for entertainment when there are now VR compatible games, such as Pokemon GO, and 360 degree imaging available on any smartphone. However, the big question that remains is how to implement this new capability to its optimal learning potential as a multi-sensory educational tool.

Ultimately, something like VR can provide high-impact knowledge with countless possibilities. Its value lies in becoming a part of the lesson plan’s core structure as well as an alternative way to engage students through enhancement to the physical classroom. It is not designed to be a replacement. VR is just as much about giving students the opportunity to create a simulated digital world as it is blending the real world and artificial reality together.

The uses of digital reality are obvious when thinking of its wow factor. But beyond its surface of recreational capabilities, what are some of the most beneficial ways it can be used in an instructional environment?

The Emerging Possibilities and Challenges of VR in Education

According to an article on by Graeme Lawrie in The Telegraph, the availability of VR technology is ready for classroom use, however it is just a matter of discovering the most viable means of optimization when combining it into the curriculum.

As Lawrie said in his article, “We are moving away from simply ‘learning’ a subject or topic to ‘feeling’ the content … occasionally students just need to be taken out of a classroom environment and dropped into an immersive world; where they can watch dinosaurs walk around them, experience a performance in a concert hall, or live stream with other students around the world in VR social spaces. The list of apps being generated is dramatically growing, and with every new piece of software, another avenue for learners opens up.”

These new technologies can provide enriched learning environments for students who otherwise may not respond to traditional educational methods. It has the proficiency to deliver countless new immersion concentrations to assist in lesson plans. As well, it encourages new outlets of creativity for students of all ages.

But even though the possibilities for VR in education are profound, implementation of VR comes with questions about what the content can convincingly provide, cost of training and equipment (though the age of VR affordability is here with some devices only amounting $6 plus a smartphone), and easily usable gear designs for the everyday consumer.

Some of the recent strategies being tested have been described as clunky, and though there are ways to project the simulation onto a large screen, educators have commented that each classroom needs more than one VR device for it to be effective.  

Just as the technological advancements in this field continue to grow, developers will need to persist in the discussions of research and successful execution in order for this style of edtech enhancement to be utilized to its full positive potential in the classroom. Though teachers can see the benefits and potential of VR in education, there is still the query of implementation. However, despite the looming questions, teachers at all levels are beginning to see where it leads.

How Virtual Reality is Being Used in the Classroom

VR immersion has already broken into classrooms using affordable devices such as Samsung Gear VR and Google Cardboard, or most often the Google Expedition foray, even though the latter is not cheap and only provides all the means necessary for a one-time use.

With Google Expedition teachers are provided a kit with everything they need to explore a new world. After choosing which exploration, there are tablets, VR viewers, phones, and a router for complete peer-to-peer connection, plus a lesson guideline and study questions.

More affordable, less curated VR options include Google Cardboard, Samsung Gear, and Windows 10 VR. These headsets attach to any smartphone device and the virtual world is at the student’s disposal. A variety of VR apps that go along with these headsets can be downloaded for free, such as Titans of Space VR, GoPro VR, Public Speaking VR, Google Arts and Culture, and even New York Times VR which brings simulation into current news stories.

Whether the subject is current events, Neil Armstrong’s walk on the moon, or even the construction of the Statue of Liberty there are apps available to tune in to these studies with a whole new wave of understanding. Students can even become a part of any YouTube video just by hitting the cardboard icon.

Despite all these possibilities, however, the usefulness of VR as an educational tool rests in the hands of the teachers and how they choose to implement it.

Encouraging Active Learning and Student Creativity

One of the ways teachers are finding value in VR, beyond its inherent immersiveness, is how it promotes active learning. VR can be a powerful tool for enabling degrees of student autonomy and encouraging creativity.

A key trait to facilitating learning is promoting imagination and creativity by offering students the availability to generate content. Creativity can be sparked through conventional learning techniques such as group projects or expressive freedom in writing, but what if students could use 360 cameras and create their own virtual world or even generate their own simulated animation?

360 cameras are easy to use and rapidly gaining popularity, therefore becoming more affordable. While they currently come in a range of prices, basic options start at $58. Using them is as simple as creating a video with the camera which enables you to film in a 360 degree view as if you were swiveling your head. Then by downloading the footage to a tablet or smartphone, and using Google Cardboard or a similar device, a student can become a part of the footage he or she just developed.

Imagine a student filming Friday night’s football victory and the exciting 4th quarter touchdown, and then being able to immerse the rest of the classroom in that excitement on Monday morning. Or another pupil takes a spontaneous hike through an old mining ghost town and then is able to share the experience with fellow classmates as if they were along for the adventure.

Other applications of creativity are similar to designing digital worlds—almost like designing a world in The Sims which is in its 17th year of success. When using a Structure Sensor with a smartphone or tablet, the sensor works like an instant 3D scanner capturing full details and colors of the classroom or any surroundings such as a science museum or botanical gardens.

Teachers can use this to show students how to animate 3D scanned objects or people and create stories about their new ‘sims.’ This type of indoor mapping along with the mixed reality created can allow students the means to tap into capacities of their inspired minds like never before.

Embarking on Virtual Field Trips and Cultural Exploration

VR is becoming tomorrow’s version of exploring all over the globe without the hassle of permission slips. At any age, students value the idea of field trips and discovering new places and fresh engagements to the lesson. With VR, any subject is given the opportunity to expand beyond the classroom. A history teacher discussing battles of the civil war can make you a part of the action. A biology instructor comparing underwater mammals can use VR to take you to the depths of the ocean.

The countless foray of VR field trip opportunities continue as K-12 student start looking forward to college. VR can take students on tours of university campuses all over the world. It can even allow potential recruitment simulation for student athletes who are interested in discovering what it feels like to be on a track or field at a large university.

Classrooms all over the world can join together in conference to allow for cultural growth and lectures in all languages can be heard and interpreted all with the use of VR. An article by teacher Rhett Oldham says that with the opportunity for global collaboration, students meet friends across the world and are able to get to know each other’s cultures and differences. It has the capability to bring to life otherwise imperceptible concepts.

Getting ‘Hands-On’ Experience in Medicine and Skilled Jobs

One of the largest benefits to VR usage is its personal engagement and interactivity afforded to each student when using it as a virtual 'hands-on' approach to otherwise more traditional learning environments, especially with involvement in the medical field or trade schools.

In an article by Mitzi Baker at the University of California San Francisco, Baker compliments a pilot VR program where medical students are able to comprehend the layers of the body with a more in-depth understanding and have the ability to simulate real-life trauma situations.

“Virtual reality anatomy allows the learner wearing a headset—and observers viewing monitors—to interact with a virtual patient that is upright, much as they would with an actual patient in a clinic. The virtual patient can be viewed from the top or bottom, and can be moved around to uncover spatial relationships,” wrote Baker.

The possibilities available with VR are much greater than what a typical cadaver lab would be able to deliver, though it is without the actual living criteria involved with human anatomy—i.e., the gruesome reality medical personnel handle daily. Being able to practice life-saving procedures without the risks or having the ability to individually handle internal organs without having to share the limited resources are just a few examples that afford students with new capabilities.   

With VR, anatomical education can be applied almost immediately after the supplemental lecture or study is finished with simulated real-life events of unpredictable examples. To have attained the capability to dissect a body by each layer down to viewing the inside of a single cell, not only are new conveniences opened for the students, but discoveries of advancements in medicine are just one prospective degree provoked by the brink of this new medium.

In the same sense, trade schools can use it to give students the experience of a real-life occurrence in their desired career field without getting their hands dirty, such as learning how take apart and repair a vehicle engine or seeing life through the eyes of a petroleum technician in the middle of an oil derrick.

The Value of VR in Education

The most intriguing notion behind VR is the idea that it can make the impossible a reality. With capabilities of mixed reality and simulation, there is no longer a constraint of time or place. Teachers can take students back in time to witness famous speeches or monumental events in history taught each semester instead of maintaining more traditional approaches of the accolades in hopes it will all be retained.

As Matthew Lynch wrote in an article for The Tech Advocate, “As the potential for an educational revolution begins, it will be necessary for research to be completed in order to determine best practices and the most meaningful applications of VR for education … The applications of VR outside education will progress and inevitably bring up additional considerations for instruction and learning.”

Because of the introduction of VR in the classrooms, the real world and simulated reality will continue to coalesce into a high-impact experience giving open minds an educational outlet unlike any before.

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