Let’s consider VR as a useful tool, and perhaps even a productive enhancement to human interaction, bringing together people from around the world to engage and interact — regardless of social, economic or geographic disparities. In the abstract as well as the applied, modern education is poised to take advantage of this latest tech innovation.
Over the last few years, VR has moved from being the purview of the military and aviation to the mainstream of professional development, as managers, instructors, coaches and therapists have claimed increasing benefit from immersive experiences. While statistics on VR use in schools and colleges have yet to be gathered, the steady growth of the market is reflected in the surge of companies solely dedicated to providing schools with packaged educational curriculum and content, teacher training and technological tools to support VR-based instruction in the classroom.
Perhaps the most utopian application of this technology will be seen in terms of bridging cultures and fostering understanding among young students. Much of this early foray into VR-based learning has centered on the hard sciences — biology, anatomy, geology and astronomy — as the curricular focus and learning opportunities are notably enriched through interaction with dimensional objects, animals and environments. The World of Comenius project, a biology lesson at a school in the Czech Republic that employed a Leap Motion controller and specially adapted Oculus Rift DK2 headsets, stands as an exemplary model of innovative scientific learning.
In other areas of education, many classes have used VR tools to collaboratively construct architectural models, recreations of historic or natural sites and other spatial renderings. Instructors also have used VR technology to engage students in topics related to literature, history and economics by offering a deeply immersive sense of place and time, whether historic or evolving.
In what may turn out to be an immersive education game changer, Google launched its Pioneer Expeditions in September 2015. Under this program, thousands of schools around the world are getting — for one day — a kit containing everything a teacher needs to take their class on a virtual trip: Asus smartphones, a tablet for the teacher to direct the tour, a router that allows Expeditions to run without an Internet connection, a library of 100+ virtual trips (from the Great Wall of China to Mars) and Google Cardboard viewers or Mattel ViewMasters that turn smartphones into VR headsets.
This global distribution of VR content and access will undoubtedly influence a pedagogical shift as these new technologies allow a literature teacher in Chicago to “take” her students to Verona to look at the setting for Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, or a teacher in the Bronx to “bring” her Ancient Civilizations class to the ancient Mayan ruins at Chichen Itza.
Access to some type of mobile VR device is affordable for many more individual users and, in turn, many more schools. Despite the fact that VR is still developing, real progress has been seen in the economic scaling of the technology. The cost to the consumer of VR hardware (headsets, in particular) has steadily declined, as noted in the head-mounted displays (HMDs) commercially available today: Google Cardboard for $20 and Samsung Gear VR for $99 (at this writing, Oculus Rift, a desktop VR device, is available for pre-order for $599).
Teachers and students alike are seeking an ever-expanding immersive landscape, where students engage with teachers and each other in transformative experiences through a wide spectrum of interactive resources. In this educational reality, VR has a definitive place of value.
Credit to Elizabeth Reede at TechCrunch.
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