Imagine dissecting a frog in biology class without the nauseating smell of embalmed amphibian flesh or the risk of accidentally cutting your finger. Picture yourself mixing active compounds in chemistry class and learning from your mistakes without shattering any glass or causing chemical reactions that overflow their beakers. You’re wearing different goggles in this lab.
Leaping from the pages and screens of science fiction into our reality, a technology that feels at once familiar and perhaps even disappointing is poised to transform education in some remarkable ways, with new classroom products gaining traction in schools.
Better Late Than Never: VR’s Overdue Arrival in the Classroom
Virtual reality (VR) is an exciting technology that has captivated imaginations for decades without living up to its billing as a transformative learning tool of the future. VR refers to computer-generated environments that people can explore and interact with using an audiovisual headset that creates the illusion of being within a digital space.
Today, VR is finally showing signs of reaching technological maturity in several sectors beyond entertainment. With long-awaited breakthroughs in hardware and software, virtual-reality tools are now revolutionizing learning and collaboration at the leading edge of high-tech professions, from immersive combat training and psychotherapy sessions to architecture design and practice surgeries.
The classroom is no different. You don’t have to be an astronaut to learn safely in VR. Especially since the coronavirus pandemic overtook the world, society has struggled to find innovative ways to teach the next generation of lifelong learners safely.
Perhaps VR is the next wave of education technology (EdTech) at all levels, from K-12 to higher education and beyond to specialized professions like jet piloting and practices like dentistry. It’s no longer implausible to predict that entirely new disciplines and industries will emerge based in VR in the near future.
In the education sector, from kindergarten to Ph.D. programs, the presence of VR is growing. As a relatively new audiovisual medium for connecting and sharing knowledge, VR has great potential for classroom instruction and experiential learning.
Are you looking for more information about classroom VR? Keep reading for everything you need to know!
1: Can VR Really Improve Teaching and Learning at School?
Studies show that many students have trouble retaining information, especially in traditional learning environments that rely primarily on fact retention, rote memorization. Equipped with only conventional teaching tools such as whiteboards, textbooks and worksheets, many teachers struggle to provide an engaging, real-world context for applying lesson content.
In a world where more information than ever before is literally right at our fingertips, education researchers see a decline in student engagement, which many believe can be improved with the help of interactive classroom technology such as VR in the hands of skilled educators.
Most students retain more information when the instruction is supplemented with visuals. The ultimate visual aid is a fully immersive VR experience that also features audio. This long-heralded teaching tool is coming of age and presenting an opportunity for teachers to instruct students in ways that will stick and get them excited for their next learning adventure.
How can VR enhance the learning experience? Think of your early school years. What do you remember impressing you and inspiring you most? Do you remember chalkboards and repeating days' worth of textbook information? Or perhaps an exciting fact or captivating experience from a school field trip stayed in your mind?
On reflection, most of us will conclude that the school trip was a more memorable learning experience than repeating the multiplication table. VR delivers learning experiences with a verisimilitude that approaches those field trips, all in the comfort and safety of the classroom, where teachers don't have to worry about buddy systems, lost students or the unruly bunch making a ruckus in the gift shop.
Most experts agree—learning in VR can be more impactful than conventional classroom activities or university lectures. Education researchers at the University of Maryland found that VR lessons can improve recall by as much as 8.8 percent over traditional teaching modalities. A recent PwC report found that VR learners trained four times faster than learners who used traditional classroom methods. The research also showed that VR learners reported being significantly more emotionally connected to the VR content than classroom learners were to the same content delivered in a conventional format.
2: The Future of VR in Classrooms: A Brave New Virtual World of Learning?
You might wonder what the future of classroom VR looks like, then. For example, VR works best with subjects and curricular content that’s visual and tactile instead of abstract and conceptual. Philosophy and grammar are not as well suited for VR—but history? Take me on Paul Revere's ride and let me hear and see President Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address as if I were there!
Are your students going to become couch potatoes at home with their headsets on while you have no control over how they interact with you and their classmates? You may also be concerned about how students will develop social skills in a virtual environment.
Some elementary school teachers, college professors and administrators remain unconvinced that trying out VR in the classroom is a worthwhile investment of precious resources.
Reservations about the technology include:
- Perceptions of high costs
- The bulkiness of some VR headset units
- Uncertainty over the availability and effectiveness of VR lesson content
- Concerns over potential pushback from parents about VR content they may object to
Another common negative perception is that VR is only for entertainment, like video games. The truth is that breakthroughs in entertainment hardware and software are helping fuel progress in developing VR as a powerful learning tool. Despite the perception challenges, industry analysts project that demand for VR in education will show real growth in the coming years.
3: The Best of Both Worlds (Real and Virtual)
Innovative educators are ready to blaze a trail for others to follow. With adequate training and a proper balance of technology access, educators can combine old and new pedagogical methods for better learning outcomes. Anyone who has tried the latest VR tools designed for the classroom will tell you that VR can bring academic studies to life in three enveloping dimensions. Immersive VR lessons feature vibrant colors and stunning detail, free from the restraints of classrooms with four walls, immersing students in new sights and sounds and empowering them to see the world from a variety of perspectives, old and new.
Like any classroom teaching tool, VR is no substitute for in-person student-teacher interactions. Teaching and learning is a social activity, so naturally, VR delivers the most long-term value when used as intended, as a powerful but supplemental tool in an educator’s kit.
According to Bluum’s CEO, Erez Pikar, "We have reached the point where technology with immense educational applications like VR has made this quantum leap from something that storytellers once dreamed of to now becoming a hardware and software tool that educators can really use. Teachers can harness the power of VR to craft a narrative-driven learning experience or create a learning environment that makes it easier to teach highly complex material. And they can take advantage of a large and growing selection of compelling VR lessons that are dynamic, fun and emotionally engaging,” said Pikar.
4: More Than Just Another Way to Play Games or Watch Movies
While some VR games are amazingly entertaining and jaw-droppingly immersive, VR is not just another gaming platform. Nor will it bring about any Hollywood sci-fi scenarios like “The Lawnmower Man” or “The Matrix” anytime soon. Remember when Keanu Reeves’ character, Neo, first learned Kung Fu via download and VR training? “Whoa!” That’s not happening in “real reality” this decade, although you may be able to choose VR instead of IMAX as a movie viewing format. Outside of lucrative fantasy lands and big-budget fiction, VR has many real-world applications, as demonstrated by professionals using it now for things like simulations and practice exercises. Entertainment is just one of the industries that will see transformation driven by VR. Education is another.
With access to a VR headset, you can take your students on trips that would otherwise be impossible or impractical. For example, specific scientific programs allow you to take a tour of the body as a single molecule, traveling through the bloodstream to bring a deeper understanding of human anatomy. In VR, students can zoom in to study the nucleus of an atom, then zoom out to observe the structure of a spiral galaxy.
Additionally, VR can make it difficult to grasp subject matter easier to understand. For example, seeing quantities, ratios, fractions and percentages visualized can help young students develop a deeper understanding of key mathematical concepts. Visualizations are particularly helpful for students who struggle with the subject. For instance, by visualizing algebraic equations involving speed and distance, students can now see real-world applications right in front of their eyes. Rather than having the Doppler effect explained to them in words, they can see it and hear it in a visualization of a train or ambulance passing by.
The teaching and learning possibilities are nearly limitless with VR, and we have only scratched the surface of this immersive technology’s potential for education.
5: Classroom VR – Pros and Cons
As with any new technology, VR has some drawbacks in classrooms. However, the benefits greatly outweigh the negatives.
Many experts say VR allows for more focus, especially in short periods of intense concentration, leaving memorable impressions and instilling experiential knowledge. The in-depth immersion of VR can block out distractions, such as fellow students, boredom, or that birdie outside the window, which can be much more interesting than whatever the teacher has to say—we all remember those days.
VR also doesn't feel like learning. Remember when your primary school teacher rolled the old TV cart into the classroom, and the entire class breathed a sigh of relief at getting a break from “chalk and talk” teaching? The same can be said about VR, especially when students learn in collaborative virtual spaces together. For example, a VR field trip to the Precambrian or Jurassic eras before humans walked planet Earth, or a quick visit to our prehistoric past when early humans invented tools that would lead to VR time travel. Students can improve their writing and storytelling by describing their VR experiences in words, maybe even words written on paper, a most ancient education technology. While students retain crucial information, they are also more engaged in the VR lesson, having more fun, making memories and absorbing knowledge without even trying.
Some teachers have concerns about human connection. Will students cut themselves off if they use VR too much? It’s an understandable concern, but largely unwarranted. Educators and product manufacturers recommend tight limits on VR lesson time, addressing this potential issue. It’s extremely unlikely that any schools in our time will transition to VR learning full-time. Student interaction and social skills are essential to every child’s wellbeing and development, especially in the post-pandemic era in which educators and parents are paying greater attention to the mental health of students.
Another drawback of VR is that new technology can be expensive. The latest smartphones show that. However, the prices of VR headsets are decreasing quickly, and more affordable options are hitting the EdTech market every month.
While funding headsets for each student may be demanding for many schools, the same was once true for computing devices, and now many K-12 school districts can equip all their students with laptops or tablets. When more schools adopt VR and document improved student engagement, it is sure to become a commonplace EdTech option in classrooms. Eventually, schools that lack VR will find themselves at a disadvantage as its pedagogical power grows with each new device lifecycle.
Lastly, some educators have expressed a desire for more VR lesson content before taking the plunge. EdTech companies like ClassVR that make these next-generation learning tools are listening and responding with vast new selections of immersive learning experiences tailored to every grade level and comfort level.
Ready to Enter the Future with VR in Your Classroom?
When it comes to learning, there is hope for a brighter future enhanced by technology such as VR. Classroom VR is paving the way for a new wave of education and with it, better outcomes for students from pre-kindergarten through college and beyond.
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