Teachers see it all the time: the students are bored, fidgeting, and on the verge of mass attention span collapse. Glazed eyes, a conspicuous lack of questions, and the occasional cry for help in the form of an airborne wad of paper are more common in today’s classrooms than eager energy and collaboration.
To address these problems, more and more teachers and district administrators are turning to virtual reality. Virtual reality in education is no longer a distant idea. Some schools are already using it, and several companies have stepped forward to offer educational virtual reality hardware, lesson content, and other services.
But while the advantages of using VR in education are numerous, there are some drawbacks to consider as well.
How VR In Education Solves Classroom Roadblocks
According to this survey by Samsung Business USA, teachers think science, history, and social studies would benefit the most from VR in the classroom. In fact, the approval ratings were above 80% for each subject. That’s probably because VR saves on the cost of consumable lesson materials, excites students, and accommodates different learning styles in ways traditional learning cannot.
Cost And Safety
Some subjects, such as chemistry or biology, require supplies that have to be used and replaced. The bill adds up fast, and some schools simply don’t have the resources to purchase consumable reagents for every demonstration. VR offers a way to save money on supplies and still let students perform chemistry experiments and biological dissections.
Animal dissections are a valuable way to understand anatomy, but the practice raises ethical concerns, and some students are discouraged by the squishy insides of a frog. (Not to mention the smell.) A VR dissection sidesteps the ethical issues and focuses on the science, making students more comfortable by removing the ick-factor of working on an actual animal.
And while watching a rapid chemistry reaction gout color-shifting fire from a beaker has a definite “wow” factor that can impress and engage students, it also sends principals and local fire departments into conniption fits. VR can provide the visual spectacle in learning that students crave — it can bypass the potential dangers of doing so.
Edutainment At Its Finest
We’ve all had a teacher whose voice seemed engineered to put us to sleep while they read directly from a textbook. No additional insight, just a droning recitation of last night’s homework assignment. But VR creates a more engaging, exciting classroom, even blurring the line between education and cinematic thrills.
From the intense shaking of a rocket during takeoff to the eerie lighting of the sunken ship, virtual reality technology provides a level of immersion that is almost guaranteed to invoke emotion and keep students connected to the lesson. Additionally, different students have different learning styles: seeing, hearing, or doing, also referred to as visual, auditory, and kinesthetic. If a lesson doesn’t accommodate their style of thinking, they can quickly disconnect. VR engages all three styles, ensuring that no student is left behind.
For instance, Immersive VR Education offers VR lessons about the Titanic and Apollo 11 that combines historically accurate, educational content with an adventurous delivery. Alchemy VR also specializes in providing an element of adrenaline to educational material. The VR studio has collaborated with science and history museums on multiple projects, including a fast-paced descent from the International Space Station that rips along at a blistering 27,000 kph. One thing’s for sure — nobody is going to nod off during these lessons.
Z Space offers schools a comprehensive electronics package that focuses on augmented reality in education. Using a stylus pen and AR glasses, students can “lift” an image off the screen. The image becomes a 3D object right in front of their eyes that can be rotated and broken apart into individual components for further investigation.
With VR appropriately implemented in education, the hard part won’t be getting students to come to class. It will be convincing them to leave.
Field Trips To The Moon And Back
One of the biggest cost-saving applications for VR is field trips. Reading about the Coliseum in Rome is one thing, but what if students could actually stand in its center? VR provides a fantastic opportunity to introduce students to exotic and historical locales in new ways, increasing the depth of experience and enjoyment for students — and saving schools a ton of money on travel costs.
Google Expedition has the field trip experience down. Designed to work with low-cost headsets like Google Cardboard, Expeditions already offers plenty of existing content that allows students to visit historical locations, dive under the ocean, and virtually blast into outer space. Students can explore immersive environments and 3D objects which are pre-equipped with details, annotations, and points of interest. That makes constructing a post-field-trip quiz a breeze.
The Reality Of VR In Education
While all that sounds great, virtual reality is not without considerable challenges and drawbacks. VR can save a lot of money, but initial upfront costs can be expensive. A single Oculus Rift is $500-$600, and a lone HTC Vive unit costs around $800. Outfitting an entire classroom with that kind of hardware is out of the question for most districts and colleges. However, there are some cheaper options available, such as the Google Cardboard.
Related: The Best Google Cardboard VR Apps
Google Cardboard is an inexpensive piece of headgear which students can place their own phones into to create a VR experience. Some headsets are, true to the name, little more than glorified cardboard boxes — but they start at a mere $5. Other models are a little fancier, designed to look more like cushioned skiing goggles, and they can range from $15-$30. Since most students have a smartphone these days, they can bring their own device, and then stick it in a compatible Google Cardboard unit.
However, not every student has a smartphone — and even if they do, they may not have the data plan to support regular VR usage. Offloading data streaming onto the school's WiFi network is going to be a burden for many districts: not every school has the IT infrastructure to support a glut of VR technology into the classroom, let alone the WiFi network.
Another active concern with VR in education is the volume of available content. Textbooks and lesson plans have had time to be developed over multiple iterations, and the process of incorporating them into the classroom is tried and tested. (Albeit, not perfected.) Because the technology is still so new, VR doesn’t have the sheer amount of content or the kind of lesson plan support that other teaching methods do.
However, NearPod, a provider of VR learning services, is currently bringing virtual reality education to over 10,000 schools. The company has a very streamlined process for how to license its software, design teacher plans, and incorporate lesson materials. Immersive VR Education is also pioneering its Engage educational platform, available for free, to help teachers build their own lesson plans, experiences, virtual classrooms, and more. Similarly, Google offers plentiful advice on how to integrate Google Expedition content into lesson plans.
Virtual reality in education has its challenges, but the industry is taking steps to address them. What subjects do you want to see VR used for in an educational setting? Do you have any VR learning experiences you want to share? Share your comments below.