posted October 31st, 2016 by Brian Neese
Technology remains one of the biggest trends in education. At many education levels, classrooms are relying more on computers, tablets, cloud-based solutions and the like. Similar to instructional design in higher education, virtual reality may transform primary and secondary education.
Virtual reality has seemed to be a distant possibility to be applied to education — and even mainstream entertainment and gaming. But now, virtual reality has become a practical option in classrooms. Virtual reality allows teachers to take advantage of an immersive environment for engaging students, which can lead to better educational outcomes.
Integrating virtual technology in the classroom can involve a traditional desktop setup or another input device, such as a data glove paired with a smartphone on a head-mounted display. Both options are starting to make their way into classrooms.
What may be one of the most optimistic virtual reality integrations in education is taking place in China. Companies are building virtual reality classrooms, according to Bloomberg Technology, and video game maker NetDragon wants to be one of the first to implement them on a large scale. The company serves 2.2 million teachers and 40 million pupils.
In these classrooms, a headset tracks students’ activity in the virtual reality environment, while a complementary tablet uses its camera to monitor the students. Researchers are using data that is captured to see how the children learn, and then recommend activities.
A new virtual immersion lab is bringing virtual reality to students in America too. In the Montour School District (McKees Rocks, Pennsylvania), students are using a virtual reality tool called zSpace, which provides a 3-D learning experience that allows them to dissect an eyeball, T-Rex or 1968 Dodge Challenger, according to EdSurge. Other integrations include an augmented reality learning tool for molecular modeling, and a possible virtual reality chemistry lab.
Google Cardboard is an affordable option for students to use to experience virtual reality, according to the International Society for Technology in Education. The Google Cardboard device is a simple cardboard box with Velcro, two lenses and a slot for a mobile phone. Google Cardboard kits, which cost an average of $12 each, allow teachers to develop virtual reality lessons with a growing number of content choices and compatible apps.
According to Smithsonian.com, students in classrooms across the United States are taking advantage of Google’s Expeditions Pioneer Program to go on virtual reality field trips. Students use Cardboard to move through an experience controlled by their teacher’s tablet. By virtually exploring 3-D versions of Machu Picchu, the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History, and the Great Wall of China, students can see these locations while listening to their teacher.
One teacher featured in a New York Times blog used Google Cardboard to have students view a short virtual reality film about refugees called “The Displaced” to help them gain a unique perspective. The goal was to see how viewing the film in VR would impact the students’ ability to feel empathy. After trying them out, the students said that the VR goggles were indeed a powerful tool to build empathy.
Immersive learning solutions like virtual reality can help students relate to course material, and represent a new and exciting way teachers can introduce a topic.
Teachers looking to improve student learning and advance their careers can consider an online Master of Education program from Southeastern University. One degree option is the online Master of Education in Arts and Academic Interdisciplinary Education, which helps teachers combine visual arts, theater, music and dance elements into lessons. The master’s programs take place in a flexible and convenient online learning environment.