Using Virtual Reality in Education

Last updated: 12-16-2020

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Using Virtual Reality in Education

The use of virtual and augmented reality in classrooms is not tied to discipline restrictions. With 360-degree views and content libraries that support deeper learning, the benefits of virtual reality in education include new options for keeping students’ attention and even increasing their emotional connections to curricular topics. With more affordable options and access to quality content, virtual reality in schools is a popular trend for good reason.  

To the everyday observer, VR is perhaps thought of as the coolest trend to grace the gaming world and immerse players more deeply in their games. In the same way, however, it’s developed as an educational tool that teachers can use to immerse students further in classroom content. Virtual realityoffers students an immersive learning experience that effectively supplements the material teachers are presenting, keeping them engaged for longer periods of time. Since it’s still something completely new to most students, it can also excite them and help them experience things they otherwise might never be able to.

Both augmented and virtual reality provide new angles for learning that, with proper integration, can enhance student experience and bring concepts to life with stunning visual displays. When the physical and digital worlds intersect, students gain vivid context that supports instruction and augmented reality, in particular, allows educators to turn 2D devices into 3D devices. Students can see what is physically around them and teachers can supplement this with relevant digital content. Even though applications like this example of AR were originally developed for entertainment, the value of mixed reality in education is also high.

Both virtual and augmented reality can be used in the classroom without discipline restrictions since virtual content for educational purposes has been developed on a wide variety of topics. AR, for example, can boost student motivation, engagement, and improve the attitudes students have towards learning. When students are engaged from start to finish – something VR-based learning boosts – they tend to perform better. Plus, from an SEL perspective, virtual reality can contribute to making learning more meaningful for students while motivating them in new ways.

Education leaders have gotten on board with VR and AR, in part, because of its effectiveness at making learning more meaningful, how it helps motivate students, and because it engages them more directly. When students have a genuine interest in their work, persist through challenges, and get excited about accomplishments, their engagement levels peak. Virtual reality can help in each of these three areas by inspiring, motivating, and offering new insights whether that’s through various field trips, activities, or experiments. Kids can also play individual or team games in virtual reality -- so long as they are educational of course as teachers stretch the instructional benefits of these tools.

The interactive elements of AR and VR provide useful, real-time feedback for teachers and helpful visuals for students. As we alluded to, student engagement is not always high and some classroom instructors have turned to either virtual or augmented reality for a potential cure. AR and VR are still evolving, but already effective enough to give it a legitimate place in modern classrooms. To be an ideal technology in today’s educational climate, students should be able to create with it -- not just consume it. That’s why educators have found repeatable success with incorporating VR in instruction.

Classroom VR integration typically presents teachers with two options: Systems that offer a library of lessons for deeper immersion in curricular content or platforms that allow them to create these experiences. Creating virtual content varies in degree and difficulty and is usually more appropriate for high school and college students, but is still aligned with real-world engineering. The different points of view that some VR systems provide mirror those of a 360-degree camera, which cannot be found a textbook. With the Oculus Rift, for example, showing students an authentic scene of the bottom of the ocean is incredible to first-time users – something we can attest to after just a moment of demonstrating the technology to teachers and students.

With more interactive lessons, VR content can activate prior knowledge on a topic and also allows students to tap deeper into their creativity since they can move around as they learn. Despite this ability to engage students across grade levels VR adoption in education needs teacher buy-in. We try to help teachers see how easily it integrates in the classroom to ease their natural apprehension. They’re also worried that these platforms are just trends, but there’s reason to believe that they could end up playing a huge role in learning. It’s early, but AR and VR have the potential to disrupt education immensely and it’s honestly exciting to think about.

In the present climate of learning, educators need to teach to the generation of students they have in front of them. Kids today have different preferences, interests, and experiences than those from previous generations and want immediate satisfaction from what they’re consuming. They also want to be engaged from start to finish and virtual reality has emerged as a solution that can deliver. In fact, studies have shown that VR is more effective at engaging kids from today’s generation and keeps their attention for longer periods of time than other methods of teaching. It also positively affects learning performance, emotion, and engagement when compared to traditional instruction.

During the study, learning levels and emotional responses were measured and recorded. Students who learned with help from VR had high levels of positive emotional responses to the content, often stating that they found the VR learning to be more engaging than ‘basic’ and boring’ learning approaches. They also said that virtual reality made learning more exciting and we’d be willing to bet that these students were more enthusiastic about going to school if for nothing else having the opportunity to try something that’s new to them.

VR offers students something different while helping them learn and understand the same concepts. It can also transform classroom teaching when implemented effectively and has become a popular alternative to other, more traditional teaching styles. Not only does it spark excitement, it gives kids more enjoyable learning by drawing on their interests and allowing educators to reach them on a personal level. For those reasons, VR might soon transcend being a complement to textbooks and video learning and, since it’s also pretty affordable to use VR in education, it’s an appealing option for K-12 schools and colleges.

Some Arguments for Virtual Reality in the Classroom

Plenty of teachers and students believe VR deserves a place in today’s classrooms while those opposed argue it’s too expensive, too challenging to implement, and too distracting for students. The future of virtual reality is not going to be all gaming, however, and neither is it’s present. VR has educational benefits that start with generating excitement and end with amplifying learning. Educators are always seeking to enhance engagement as well as the quality of their instruction and we argue that VR is a legitimate solution for turning an ordinary classroom into a place of wonder, inquiry, and adventure.

While it may not be for every classroom, VR is more affordable than you would think with basic viewers at less than $100 and top-end systems under $3,000. Their affordability and ease of use contribute to implementation with little tech support needed, but we do also offer consulting to help should educators need it. Once implemented, VR can pull students in and generate interest in topics they’ve previously rejected. One go-to example is that of ancient Roman ruins. Every student learns this topic -- usually by reading a textbook – but, when they can actually see the scenery through virtual reality, they tend to be much more energized and excited.

Virtual reality also has some more subtle benefits, like enhancing writing skills since it can paint vivid pictures of a variety of topics, which helps stimulate student brains and turn what they see into words on the paper. Additionally, VR encourages reading by replacing PowerPoint slides or lectures with more intriguing background information, often leading to more willingness to read. Finally, VR allows for cross-curricular opportunities like showing students images from a breathtaking scene and having them write a poem about it, bringing together science and literature just like that. With the creative minds at the heads of today’s classrooms, that is just one example and likely only the beginning of using VR to teach.

Improving the Quality of Education with AR and VR

Virtual and augmented reality are hot topics in education and the consumer world as AR and VR have both become instructional avenues in the classroom. This means that school leaders have had to boost their understanding of each in a lot of cases. As a reminder, AR involves adding digital elements to real video -- usually viewed on a smartphone – while VR is a completely immersive experience that requires a headset to enter a digital world. Though they have their differences, both AR and VR can increase learning opportunities in the classroom and provide students with an exciting way to consume content.

Advocates of VR believe it improves both the quality of instruction and levels of engagement. This added engagement is the main argument for using it in education, though its social-emotional benefits are also likely going to become more prevalent in discussions. Virtual and augmented reality can also help students enjoy the learning process more and see it as something fun rather than something they must get through. In addition, it can help reduce language barriers by offering vivid representations of the content that’s being covered and enhance learning experiences for students with physical disabilities by bringing the most exciting elements of the world to them.

One of the final thoughts we’ll leave you with is on the real-life implications that learning with VR can have for students. Specifically in college, virtual reality can offer on-the-job training by immersing students directly in the experiences and challenges they’ll be facing in their careers. Professionals like doctors, dentists, pilots, engineers, and others can help train college students for future employment using virtual reality. By the same token, high school students can use VR to explore potential career paths before entering college and potentially use this technology to decide on a major if VR helps them discover a previously unknown passion. Whether used for immersive field trips or as a routine part of the curriculum, virtual and augmented reality are playing a role for many students in many grades and, as time goes on, we don’t think it’s going anywhere.


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