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Virtual Reality: Enhancing STEM Learning Using VR

Using Virtual Reality in the STEM Classroom - TeacherCast Guest Blog

By now, you’ve probably heard a lot about STEM education (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics). Careers in STEM are the next best thing: as a matter of fact, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor, jobs in STEM will increase by up to 30 percent by 2022, a dramatic increase over the average industry projection of just 11 percent in the past years.

With that being said, it’s time to think more about using virtual reality in education; as education officials are seeing an increase in the opportunity that will help bring STEM learning to life for today’s middle, and high school students.

By presenting a complete view of the world by use of virtual reality, teachers can help offer a new opportunity to students that will close some of the pedagogical gaps that have appeared off and on throughout the duration of the 21st-century classroom environment. These gaps generated from the fact that the curriculum and content in our education have not caught up with one another yet. In other words, education has not caught up with technology advancements.

Closing the Gap

In addition to providing education that targets the advanced skills required for careers in STEM fields, education leaders can use technology, such as a virtual learning platform to encourage students to pursue and fulfill these in-demand careers. In doing so, they will also help drive future economic growth.

By way of example, through live video conferences, students are able to connect with people working in STEM careers to get a sense of what work is like for them on a day-to-day basis. This also gives them the opportunity to ask questions and get insight into these professionals’ lives outside of work.

Perhaps the most popular virtual education platform is Nepris, a company that connects volunteer professionals with classrooms. The company was created with one thing mind, to help facilitate live video connections between classroom and people working as research professionals, engineers, and other STEM-related careers. Nepris also helps teachers find the right person to let the student know what they’re learning in the classroom can be applied to real-world workplace applications. Each professional posts a short biography along with their job description, or work experience. Then the teachers post what they need for their class, and the professional receives notifications if they might be a good fit for the topic requested.

A topic that’s highly requested by teachers usually involves nutrition. There are games designed for smart devices that help children make healthier choices. Games like Perfect Picnic, and Smash Your Food, are just two of the many activities that teach kids about snaking, grocery shopping, and alternatives to fattening foods. All of which are taught to them virtually.

Another popular game that educates children on lifestyle choices is called Eat and Move-O-Matic. This app helps children to understand the relationship between food and exercise. The game compares the calories they eat with the time it takes to burn them off through various physical activities that range from homework to running and dancing.    

Making VR Accessible for Students

The virtual reality market is still in its early stages. Although the majority of the VR apps that exist are designed for entertaining, VR’s potential for education is huge and practically untouched.

How does virtual reality work? Generally speaking, virtual reality allows the user to be immersed into a virtual world, unlike regular screens in front of the user which don’t allow such an experience. A virtual reality headset, for example, shows you an image, often with three-dimensional technology, and as soon as move your head, it modifies the image. This is what gives students the feeling of really be present in the virtual world.

While advanced VR systems can cost hundreds of dollars, there are a few systems out there on the market that are much cheaper, making this hands-on experience obtainable for all students. The Google Cardboard, for instance, is the most advanced and inexpensive VR system available, and most VR apps are compatible with it.

A few companies have created specialized virtual reality systems for the education market that assist children with the STEM task in this hands-on world.

Why haven’t schools invested in this yet?

The answer is simple, finance. Schools, along with school districts are unable to make these purchases due to the cost. Although the VR system itself isn’t much, if you multiply that number by the number of students attending the school and add damage fees, things can get costly.

The Benefits of VR

When teachers show something to their students, they’re usually limited to a video documentary or a series of different images to display on the overhead projector. Although these can be pretty cool, students are still forced to view these images and videos passively. To put it another way, they sit at their desks and only see what the images show them.

Virtual reality, however, offers a more interactive, immersive experience. Rather than sitting at their desks, for example, students are forced to stand up and interact with what’s going on in the virtual world. This means instead of looking at one aspect of an image, they can literally turn their heads and move their eyes around to view all the different angles the image has to offer. Virtual reality also immerses students inside the virtual reality setting, allowing them to forget they’re in a classroom.

Google product manager Ben Schrom argues that most field-trips are far too expensive for schools, and he’s right. Virtual reality, however, can make the smallest bite-sized moments of experiential learning a much, more enjoyable occurrence for students at school. Schrom later asserts that this won’t alter learning, but can help teachers use VR to make suggestible learning moments.

The Virtual Reality Society (VRS) comments on VR in the classroom setting, insisting that the benefits of VR encourage active learning, immersive experiences, and memorable learning moments. VR to some individuals might seem something like a toy, but that’s what help make learning fun. So, parents don’t be afraid to encourage your child to consider a career in virtual reality development. After all, preparing them for a virtual reality career will prove to be far more effective than you think.

Today’s classroom isn’t much different than the one our parents might have seen during their time is school. It’s equipped with bells (whether standard or electronic) and the sounds of whistles fill the air during recess, and lunch. Whatever the case may be, virtual reality will allow us to create almost any environment for simulated purposes. If you haven’t already tried VR yet, I highly encourage you to do so if you ever get the chance to.

Virtual reality has now become a reality.


Thanks for the read! Did I miss anything? What are some ways (if any), virtual reality can enhance STEM learning within the classroom environment? Feel free to comment below.

Herman Davis is passionate about K-12 education and loves exploring different ways to make learning a fun experience. If you can’t catch him online, you might be able to find him at the gym, or watching football (Go Broncos!).

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