Harris School Solutions looks at the obstacles to, and the opportunities from, using Virtual Reality in the classroom.
Imagine if, instead of showing young students an episode of The Magic School Bus, you could actually load them onto that bus and send them floating past red and white blood cells in the human body.
That’s what Virtual Reality (VR) could bring to your classroom: the ability for students to experience lessons in an immersive way that gets them genuinely excited about what they’re learning.
VR has been around for a long time, though, with interest in the technology waxing and waning in cycles. Nintendo, for example, had a VR game console called the Virtual Boy back in the early 1990s. (NOTE: the ’90s may not seem like that long ago, but we should point out it’s been over 20 years!)
In all that time, then, why hasn’t VR taken off yet?
Obstacles to Using VR in Classrooms
When you think of barriers to using VR in schools, what’s the first thing that comes to your mind?
If you said “price,” you’d be surprised to learn that VR hardware costs aren’t always necessarily that high. While VR headsets range in price all the way up to a small fortune, Google sells a cardboard headset for just $15.
Granted, you have to insert a smartphone into the headset casing (which could be cost prohibitive in an Education setting), but incorporating VR in your class still isn’t out of the realm of possibility when you consider A) how many deals are available for used smartphones and B) that you could get creative with implementing VR into your curriculum (one-at-a-time sharing, for example, would mean you only need a single phone).
The real obstacle to getting VR into classrooms is that the tech is still in what is known as the “Early Adopter” phase, which means that, consequently, not all the kinks have been worked out of the VR experience.
One of the hiccups still getting worked on by tech companies is that cell phones aren’t great at handling VR applications, which use a lot of graphics/visuals over a sustained period of time. Remember how Google has that inexpensive headset, but that it still requires a smartphone? It’s possible then, just on a logic level, that the more inexpensive VR solutions that require cell phones may not be ideal, at least not yet. So, yes, it does come back to cost, but there’s a more important consideration to make (even for schools that can afford more expensive VR solutions).
It’s been reported that VR can cause motion sickness. That’s not good for anyone, but it could be especially problematic for students when you consider, for example, how often elementary school children seem to get sick even without VR goggles strapped to their little heads. (Back to price, this could require a larger investment in that sawdust the custodians throw on the floor to absorb messes.)
Additionally, there are as-of-yet unclear long-term effects to consider. Remember the Nintendo Virtual Boy we mentioned earlier? There’s been speculation about whether or not it could cause permanent brain damage. While VR tech has come a long way since then, it hasn’t taken off just yet in a meaningful enough way to produce the sort of definitive research you may want before including it in your curriculum.
Opportunities for the Future of VR
Now that we’ve covered the obstacles, let’s look at some of the reasons why VR may take off sooner than you think.
Some have suggested that by investing in a solid VR setup, a school could remove other expenses, such as its science lab.
“‘Replacing a real-world lab with a virtual version,’ [UCSD VR Club Member Connor Smith] said, ‘has the potential to cut down on both the risks and the expense of maintaining a functional chemistry lab used by hundreds of students.'”
VR also can be added to labs in piecemeal applications for a similar effect but on a smaller scale. For example, this VR welding system could be included in a Career and Technical Education (CTE) program to make training safer while also mitigating some of the cost of repeatedly purchasing actual metal.
Beyond the benefits of using VR in the classroom to get students excited about learning, as mentioned at the outset of this article, it’s also possible that such immersion also has a larger effect on learning.
According to the same news article referenced above:
“Learning within a particular place or context helps students not only find solutions to problems at hand, but to develop new ways of thinking, said Zoran Popovic, director of the Center for Game Science at the University of Washington.”
VR is Backed by the Big Names
Google, Samsung, HP, and many other big companies all appear to be working on overcoming the obstacles we’ve laid out in this article while increasing the viability of Virtual Reality. It’s true that Nintendo is a big name, too, but the difference between then and now lies in the number of companies working toward a streamlined VR experience.
The volume of powerful names investing in the VR industry is bound to expedite innovation as they race each other toward the finish line.