Currently there are new virtual reality tools in the educational sector. Yet, the jury is out on whether the technology lives up to its hype.
While a number of K–12 classrooms are presently using virtual or augmented reality, there are estimates that the technology could reach 15 million students by 2025.
Computer scientists began to experiment with “virtual experiences” in the 1950s, and by the 1980s goggles and gloves had been developed to simulate immersion in a virtual world.
A educational blogger, Audrey Watters asks the question, “How is virtual reality different from educational films?” She likes to deliberate upon the role of technology in education. And, also worries that “we’ll increasingly substitute watching a movie—under the guise of simulation or VR—for field trips and other offline enrichment opportunities that are more meaningful.”
It’s not cheap to provide access to all in VR because the equipment could be quite pricey. The headsets and gloves can cost hundreds of dollars, and while cheaper versions exist—such as the $15 Google Cardboard, which attaches to a smartphone—of course the quality of experience isn’t the same.
Critics say that much of what is now called virtual reality by schools aren’t experienced through headsets and gloves, but on laptops, tablets, and phones instead. A lot of people aren’t sure exactly what VR entails, and the definition seems to keep evolving.
VR advocates like Maya Georgieva believes that it is mostly supplemental in K–12 classrooms, but this is changing as the volume of content increases and teachers and students feel the excitement around it.
Georgieva is the co-founder of Digital Bodies—a group that researches and consults on VR for education. She says that, “We are hearing from educators that students are asking more questions and are more engaged in their learning.”
It’s critical to show children visual models of what they are learning, and virtual reality provides them with building blocks for this.
Proponents of the technology pinpoint to actual success stories, and below are some of the more promising uses of VR.
Making Science Come Alive
Some doctors have been using VR to pinpointing ailments and assist in surgeries—by generating 3D models of real patient tumors from MRI scans.
Now some science teachers state that VR enables a deeper understanding of subjects such as biology and anatomy, where students need to grasp the inner workings of cells and organs that are not visible to the human eye.
In a school in California, a high school biology teacher, Rebecca Girard has been using mixed reality computers from zSpace—which come with special glasses that allow cells and organs to “pop out” of the flat screen in 3D—to help her students gain a better grasp on how the heart works. Her students can follow the path of blood flow through arteries as the heart beats, while watching valves open and close.
“Real organs used in dissection are preserved and inflexible, and the valves and muscle no longer pump,” Girard said. “I have been teaching biology for 22 years, and I have never had students understand the structures, relationships, and orientations of the organs with the same clarity as when they are viewed virtually.
Virtual Campus Tours
Physical campus tours can be quite expensive and time-consuming, and not always feasible for lots of potential college students. However, some apps like Campus Tours and YouVisit are now offering 360-degree virtual reality tours of hundreds of campuses, from the Georgia Institute of Technology to the University of Minnesota. These apps state that the experience helps foster a “sense of familiarity and belonging” in students who can’t make the trip—and aids them to sift through more schools quickly.
Using any device (no fancy headset needed), prospective students can “walk” on the paths around campus and “see” themselves among other college students, headed to class or back to the dorms. By clicking on campus buildings, users can get inside and access more than 1,000 college experiences, like exploring the Geisel Library at the University of California, San Diego, or an electrical engineering lab at Princeton University.
“It’s human nature to want to really look around a place and get a genuine sense of what it’s like,” said Gordon Meyer, director of marketing for YouVisit. “By being immersed in the experience; students feel like they are in the campus.”
Technical Classes Revamped
Unfortunately fewer students are taking technical courses these days. We are hopeful that they may get revitalised through new virtual reality experiences that train students how to repair cars and allow them to complete safety training in 3D.
The Hong Kong Institute of Vocational education used VR to teach aircraft engineering and building maintenance skills.
VR will never be a replacement for an actual field trip; however it does provide an opportunity for a new level of immersion.
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She is an Advocate of STEM Education and is Passionate about Education reform. She is an innovative thinker and strives for our society & continent as a whole to reclaim it’s greatness. She runs an educational foundation with the mission to transform education.