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Virtual Reality: Is it really the next step in classroom education?

Virtual Reality in our Classrooms - TeacherCast Guest Blog

Ideas related to virtual reality are typically centered upon high tech gadgets and tools that are able to take us to places completely out of this world. In fact, when most of us think about the development of better, cheaper virtual reality devices we typically think of the realm of video games and how technological advances will make our gaming experience unbelievably realistic. 

What many of us don’t think about is how virtual reality devices could change the real world. Namely, how virtual reality could modify how we learn and the role teachers will play in that process. With the sophistication and affordability of personal devices such as virtual reality headsets increasing every year, they may soon be coming to a classroom near you. 

Travel from the Comfort of the Classroom

Imagine the learning experience you could offer students if you were able to take them to visit the Great Barrier Reef or sections of The Oregon Trail. Students would be afforded that ability to look around, explore, and discover from the safety of the classroom. Most students only remember 20 percent of what they hear and 30 percent of what they see whereas they remember up to 90 percent of the things they do or simulate, which means a much greater learning experience. 

In addition to having a classroom that is reminiscent of Ms. Frizzle’s in The Magic School Bus, virtual reality-based classrooms are more likely to fully engage a greater variety of students and close a widening educational gap. Students that have a difficult time remaining engaged during lectures now have the opportunity to learn through doing rather than through listening. The technique could open a number of doors for reaching some of the most difficult students to teach. 

See What Students See

Some virtual reality technology is even making it possible for educators to assign work and then connect with students as they work through their set of tasks. Because teachers can see what students are seeing, it is possible to monitor how they are solving problems or identify situations that enough individuals are struggling with to spend more time covering it in a lecture. This targeted learning environment could even be the basis for a precision learning classroom where teachers can develop lessons that focus on the strengths and weaknesses of each individual student.  

For now, many of these module-based interfaces are focused on technical skills, such as healthcare and medication. It is quickly becoming reality for medical schools to implement the use of virtual reality headsets for students to practice surgery. Although it is just one of many ways in which technology is changing healthcare, it is a huge step in giving the next generation of surgeons more practice before beginning their career. 

The Reality of Virtual Reality

Of course one of the most significant concerns about the use of virtual reality in the classroom is its affordability. Currently, many school districts are unable to make the financial investment required to purchase enough virtual reality headsets necessary for one classroom, let alone every classroom. However, a number of technical advances have led to substantial drops in price for the devices and over the next decade it is likely that they will be within reach. 

There is a strong chance that much like other technologies before it (think computers), virtual reality will become a transformative piece of the classroom. The technology offers a huge opportunity to improve the learning experience of all students through its ability to provide a more interactive environment and precise lesson planning. Virtual reality is great for gaming, but it is extraordinary for learning. 

Brittni Brown is a current masters candidate at the University of Idaho. In her free time, she enjoys a variety of outdoor activities including hiking, biking, and camping.

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