How is Virtual Reality creating new opportunities in Education?
Due to recent technological advances in Virtual Reality, it is now entirely possible that students can travel the world, experience different cultures or even different eras, all from the comfort of their own desks. Students can visit museums, art galleries and even war zones without ever leaving their seat. This has the potential to open them up to what were previously thought of as once in a life time experiences, simply as a matter of course.
Virtual Reality in the Classroom
The tide of affordable VR has begun and many companies are now investing hundreds of millions in Virtual Reality start-ups and content. Teachers have the choice between headsets that use students’ own phones and an app, or ‘walled garden’ style headsets which contain content that is accessible without the need for a phone, or sometimes even internet connection.
In November 2015 Google began sending out free ‘Cardboard’ kits to schools- the ‘Cardboard’ is a phone holder with accompanying app that easily transformed a smartphone into a virtual reality headset. Some schools received a special version of this app initially allowing teachers to take their students on a tour of the Coral Reef or Machu Picchu. This Expeditions app was built specifically for classroom use, with Google working alongside teachers to create over 100 journeys in which students could immerse themselves, and are comprised of virtual reality panoramas led by a guide. The Cardboard works with iphones and other androids that run Google software but the aim was to make it as accessible as possible to users thereby making uptake in schools far more likely than if it had an inhibiting price tag. Since then Google have been working hard on building their Expeditions VR platform and making it a really exciting and accessible educational tool.
The Future of Virtual Reality in Education
When asked to predict where virtual reality technology will lead us in the next 20 years developers often talk about how we will physically engage with imaginary worlds and objects. They refer to something akin to being inside an Xbox Live program, with software being developed that would enable us to grab and manipulate objects. At the moment much of VR remains a passive experience, entertainment along the lines of television, with participants sitting and watching as opposed to interacting with their surrounds. Future use of VR challenges that. The creative ways in which teachers are using the systems available to them are already pushing the boundaries and ensuring students are not afforded the opportunity to remain passive within the experience. On offer is far more interactivity than the mere ‘clickability’ that some museums / galleries online content currently offer. Rather than taking a virtual tour as they can now, students can pick up artefacts, thereby experiencing a depth of engagement with their surrounds. This cannot be achieved by simply observing something within the context of a screen that to all intents and purposes is a glorified television.
To facilitate this extension, Google and Go –Pro , for example, are developing advanced ‘Jump’ cameras, made from a ring of 16 cameras positioned so that every point is captured from three difference perspectives thereby allowing software to transform them into 3 dimensional images. As a response to this, Facebook now turns peoples 360 panoramic views into 3D images automatically. Students therefore have the potential, not only to enter a virtual world, but also, by making their own content they can have a hand in easily creating the worlds that their classmates enter.
There is future potential for merging programs like MinecraftEdu with these virtual reality headsets/ apps and The World of Humanities and Project 1845 aim to create virtual reality historical model worlds to be played like an MMORPG. They allow students to experience a version of worlds they could never experience in real life – they could be transported back to an air raid shelter in London during the Blitz, or a Saxon Village in 5 th Century Britain. Teachers could set students problems to solve collaboratively within the context of these historical settings, allowing for twenty first century skills to be taught in the context of a 5 th century historical virtual world.
The meaning of the term Virtual Learning Environment could be changing forever and Virtual Reality seems set to play an interesting part in the ways in which students learn in the future.
Written by Beki Mace