The early 2000s saw the first ever attempt to introduce VR into the sphere of education. 86 rural schools in the United States used a VR school platform developed by specialists from Iowa State University. About two thousand schoolchildren, accompanied by a special “virtual instructor” at the university VR center, could visit it. This was deemed groundbreaking at the time.
It’s safe to say that the situation today is different.
Virtual reality (VR) is becoming a powerful, full-fledged educational tool as this format of presenting information is deemed more interesting and understandable for today’s generation of schoolchildren. Particularly, the Generation Z (Zoomer) Generation.
Now, imagine a future where children don’t even have to go to class, but instead just put on a VR headset and they’re suddenly immersed in 18th century England during the Industrial Revolution with a local miner explaining his day-to-day life. It’s safe to say that a majority would prefer this level of engagement rather than listening to a lecture from a teacher.
This future may not be far away as schools are gradually implementing VR in their curricula.
Whether you are the principal, a decision-maker or teacher, here are ways that your school can implement VR as a powerful tool of learning.
But before we begin!
VR in schools: a growing trend
According to analytics firm KPMG, VR is already used by 21% of the largest domestic companies in a wide variety of ways. Applying VR in schools can offer teachers flexible ways to complement their teaching and making it more interesting for their students.
Though not all companies are quick to transition to the virtual workplace, there have been interesting trends coming from the sphere of education in countries across the globe. In Russia, for instance, VR headsets are becoming part of the school curriculum.
Research on how VR is impacting education is also growing. It is expected that new methodological developments, state guidelines for VR use and new studies will appear in the near future. In the next three to five years, we will be able to see further use cases of the most effective VR solutions becoming mandatory in educational program of schools and an active growth in the number of VR-classes. It’s safe to say that VR is growing in its entirety.
How can a school take the first steps into virtual reality?
1. Identify your goals with implementing virtual reality in your school
Whether you are a principal, teacher or student trying to convince your school to implement virtual reality, you have to be methodical in your approach with realistic expectations.
If your reasons for doing so is because “VR is cool” or that “other schools are doing it”, then you need to re-think your motives. There are a myriad of reasons why implementing VR could be beneficial for educational purposes, but you need to identify the range of activity that will be used with virtual reality. You also need to consider the initial budgetary constraints and period during which it is going to be used.
The scope can vary significantly in this case. For example, using a basic virtual reality platform in the classroom to watch 360° videos with students in a geography lesson to learn about St. Basil’s Cathedral in Moscow. On the other hand of complexity, by using VR to dissect a frog during biology class, which may require more advanced specifications.
2. Pick your VR headset
You can’t implement VR without the most important piece in this puzzle – the VR headset itself. Despite the fact that the number of headsets are rising on the market and they’re becoming cheaper and more accessible, for schools this is still an expensive purchase. There is also the barrier of justifying the purchase, linking it to a specific class or activity – schools do contain an unavoidable element of bureaucracy.
Regarding the costs, you can save significant money if you do the research and study the equipment currently available on the market. Doing so by looking into the specifications and software instead of the brand itself. Always look at your budget with a use case in mind.
Here are some factors that you need to consider before choosing the VR headset:
- Quality of the lenses (allowing for a greater quality picture)
- Accessibility (wired/wireless),
- Joystick integration (moving and interacting with objects in VR),
- Sensors and calibration of headset before use,
- Allowing for physical movement (some headsets are static, for example, the Pimax 4K)
3. Experiment, adapt and evaluate
VR applications in schools and education are still in the early stages of development, despite the huge potential. Once the headsets are purchased, recognize the need for constant experimentation with how VR is being used in your school. Research on how virtual reality affects learning is still generating steam and, so, there are plenty of unknown variables.
Speaking to your students and professors about the virtual reality chosen for your schools and asking them for feedback is crucial. Don’t purchase virtual reality headsets for your schools and leave it as “done and dusted” – you need to constantly evaluate the methodology and process of VR in your school. Ask questions like:
- What are students/professors saying?
- What problems are solved by virtual reality in practice?
- What problems are not solved by virtual reality?
- Are there other ways to implement virtual reality for other processes?
- Can virtual reality be used together with traditional methods of learning?
By constantly evaluating and even documenting the process of VR in your school, you are also helping to generate a pool of knowledge and data for science. Studies are currently being conducted on the matter and your school could be next in line for sampling.
Difficulties and risks associated with VR in education
But with every “new” technology, there are risks associated with its implementation.
- Expensive limitations. Let’s say that current programs don’t solve any of your VR needs and you may need to develop customized content. This is undoubtedly expensive and requires a lot of time, effort and investment. At the same time, there are some tasks that are still too difficult to do in VR and would break your bank quite easily.
- Barriers to virtual reality adoption. People perceive VR differently. Some are less tolerant than others and may experience dizziness, nausea and disorientation after a couple of minutes. However, as VR becomes more advanced, this may potentially be solved in the future.
- Bureaucracy and “laggard” schools. VR remains at a practically experimental level. To make technology a full part of the educational process, significant steps in implementing the right training programs in schools and universities are needed. Due to bureaucratic processes in the educational field, however, this may take years. But that is no reason to slow down and act now.
A growing list of schools are implementing VR as it can be useful for a wide range of subjects, from biology to world culture. Similarly, the introduction of VR in the educational environment will facilitate the introduction of the technology in other industries, as well.
As the implementation of VR in schools is still at an experimental stage, it is extremely important that teachers themselves understand the value of the technology, its relevance to their curricula and how it can be used in other creative ways. In this case, both students and teachers will be motivated to maximize the potential of VR as an effective tool for learning.
For our latest VR country profile, check out our Russia edition by following this link.