The ability to take virtual field trips to exciting, expensive and hard-to-reach places is an obvious application of virtual reality and can certainly lead to meaningful insights and educational outcomes. However, the promise of virtual reality extends far beyond that use, as a number of emerging examples demonstrate. How could you leverage virtual reality in more meaningful ways in your classroom?
The first step is realizing the real potential of virtual reality. Though it is often tossed around as a buzzword and frequently known as the “next big thing,” many people cannot actually describe ways to use virtual reality. Educators, however, are beginning to take note that virtual reality holds promise in their field. At the Consumer Electronic Show (CES), which took place in January in Las Vegas, education was identified as the industry most likely to benefit from the adoption of virtual reality.
One major driver that is fueling interest is the declining cost of the new technology. Google Cardboard is one option for bringing virtual reality into the classroom in an inexpensive way. More recently, Nearpod Inc. has become another cost-effective option with an array of free content. Teachers can also pay $2.99 and up for certain lessons, and schools can buy bulk software licenses for around $2,000 a year.
While institutions are still in the beginning phases of piloting virtual reality tools, early findings suggest that the devices engage students intently in tasks, improve group interactions, provide opportunities for peer teaching, and adapt to multiple disciplines.
Using Virtual Reality in K-12
Virtual reality in K-12 classrooms allows teachers to give students “real experiences.” But it is more than a field trip—virtual reality can help lay the foundation for better STEM engagement. Students can virtually engage in the creation of robots, bridges, and buildings, even pretend to be a surgeon. For example, Utica Community Schools District in Michigan has introduced zSpace virtual reality labs at four elementary schools that allow students to explore the inner workings of the human heart and examine the physics of the world’s tallest buildings.
Using Virtual Reality in Higher Education
Though the virtual examination of a human heart in an elementary school classroom can be useful for creating curiosity and an interest in the sciences, the same experience holds great value in higher education.
Doctors can enable virtual reality technology during operations to allow for remote education for doctors and surgeons in developing countries. With virtual reality, these medical students can sit in on surgeries without having to travel to faraway top hospitals. Additionally, groups such as UC Davis Center for Virtual Care in California permits simulations like heart catheterization on mannequins so students can have as close to a real-life situation as possible without the risk of a real surgery.
While virtual reality is particularly useful for simulating medical experiences, the chance to execute the work students are training for can be valuable across many professions. There are endless potential applications, from training firefighters and veterinarians to beauticians and teachers.
Virtual reality continues to be useful for recent graduates as they prepare for job interviews. This can be especially helpful for disadvantaged populations. For example, the USC Institute for Creative Technologies in California employs virtual reality to provide practice job interviews for people with autism.
Looking to the future, growth is expected across mobile devices, wearables, gaming, and data. While high-end virtual reality is currently exclusive to PC and game consoles, it is expected to expand to mobile-powered uses by 2020. Likewise, Google Cardboard is just the beginning.
For many teachers, especially those just starting to test the waters of virtual reality, virtual field trips will remain the go-to application in the classroom. For others, hands-on use of virtual reality can spark interest and curiosity in STEM. Particularly for those in higher education environments, virtual reality holds promise for providing students with a realistic preview of and the next best thing to real-world experience in their chosen professions. As the cost of these technologies decline and accessibility increases, how can your school experiment with virtual reality in the classroom?
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