Virtual Reality (VR) is at the forefront of development and the next step in the evolution of computerized instruction. Its ability to deliver perspective changing content, virtual collaboration and creation are redefining education. The time to get VR into schools is now, so that teachers and students become drivers of innovation.
Virtual Reality is best known for transforming lessons into immersive experiences that give learners perspective and drive deeper understanding. Equally profound is its power as a collaboration and creation tool. When students are able to teach, share and create together in a virtual space, across schools and districts, creativity and fluency with innovative technology is transformed.
VR's success in the classroom is differently interpreted by students and teachers. Students' ability to disconnect from reality and emerge into a whole new universe is a better field for learning than teachers', since they rationalize more. Moreover, how successful the experience is in class depends on its vividness, on students' own background, their attention and their willingness to suspend disbelief and accept what they perceive.
Nevertheless, the benefits of VR are visible. By mirroring reality it allows learners to add meaning to words and concepts. It is also useful in developing empathy and boosting the learning process by actually doing things and using gamification.
VR can be used for more than just mastery of concepts, but for other activities targeted at developing all sorts of skills necessary in real life. From preparing for natural disasters to mindful meditation, from improving public speaking skills to virtual field trips, from the underwater world to the limitless space and even back in time — with VR you can have it all.
5 Benefits of including VR in classroom activities
As teachers we want our students to have access to the latest technology in a desire to facilitate the learning process, but more often than not we question whether it would be beneficial or detrimental to students own growth.
If you have the budget to invest in VR technology, here are some benefits you should consider:
VR crosses time and space barriers
Various VR apps and projects allow students to explore the ocean, outer space, visit high-risk countries, go to famous museums on other continents, or experience how life was in the Middle Ages, etc. — all without leaving their classrooms.
Read more: 5 useful VR apps for the modern classroom
This experience offers students a glimpse of the outside world, going in different corners of our planet, getting to know other cultures and even traveling back in time to some historical events. Therefore, it is of great value having also an immense contribution to students' learning process.
VR enhances a sense of presence
VR allows the user to participate in the learning environment with a sense of presence. It tricks the student’s brain into thinking they are there, which means quality apps have the power to turn abstract concepts into visual and experiential learning experiences, build empathy or help them learn through exploration.
One thing that also contributes to the sense of presence is the level of control students have over the virtual environment and if they can influence it. The greater the control, the more vivid the learning experience.
Read more: How can teachers use VR in the classroom?
VR boosts students’ desire to learn
There are studies which show that students have difficulty rotating objects mentally or find it hard to imagine described objects. VR's advantage is that it offers students a parallel reality in which they can even manipulate objects, accommodating the visual learner also.
A study done by Rebecca Hite and Dr. Gail Jones with a class of 6th graders in Texas has shown that through virtual technology learners improve their science skills and increase their level of understanding, finding the lessons more appealing and interesting.
VR improves collaboration
Collaboration is a condition of effective acquisition which facilitates communication, interaction and engagement. Using virtual reality, students become part of a learning community where they become interconnected.
VR classrooms overcome the distance barriers and foster the participatory culture by creating a social presence within a social place. Since learning in itself is a social process, virtual learning can be as effective as traditional learning provided that the student-student interactivity is high.
VR makes everyone a creator
Creation tools should not just be for the computer science and programming classes. VR needs storytellers, designers, writers, and musicians, which means the tools need to be accessible to everyone.
Students have the opportunity of becoming creators themselves, active explorers, not just passive consumers of virtual reality. They can bring their own ideas to the virtual environment creating, with the help of immersive technology, their own imaginary space that can be explored by others.
These types of activities involve interdisciplinary contributions leading to a change in the way students understand and represent the world, but also how they live in it.
There are clearly challenges with immersive technologies like VR; there is not enough content, we don't really know how to teach with them and the creation tools are not accessible enough. The educators who are brave enough to give VR a chance in their classrooms are all pioneers. Pushing the boundaries of new technology requires trial and error, persistence, creativity and a whole lot of grit.
I believe that VR will not only transform teaching and learning, but actually become a tool for students and educators to become creators. The challenges we face today will be solved by the next generation of developers, teachers and creators.
In order to support the next generation, we also need to revolutionize pedagogy to help teachers become creators, explorers, designers and leaders of innovation.