With virtual reality becoming more and more common place, should we as educators be taking a closer look?
This topic has presented itself in my world more recently with gaining access to an HTC Vive. Through a collaboration with GoogleVR, my school is exploring the potential of VR in classrooms. In this post I will take a look at the basics of Virtual Reality (VR) and consider its merits for educational application. But this exploration is not limited to my world! It is something that could be coming your way very soon. As with any other tool considered for education, we need to look at its feasibility for implementation...
What is Virtual Reality?
Virtual reality is best described as a computer generated 3D environment. Depending on the complexity of the environment, you may be able to interact with your surroundings, but in other situations you are strictly able to view. Typically there is a headset that allows you to look around your 3D space, and in some scenarios there are controllers or handsets that allow you to grab or move. Environments can range from cartoon like to incredibly realistic.
Why is VR so potentially revolutionary?
Each day in class we try to create an environment and culture where students are able to explore and discover. Even with our best efforts, there are certain experiences that we are not able to provide our students. No matter how hard we try, we will never stand as a class at the top of Everest (even though I wish we could!). This is where VR can really expand our reach of experience. Whether it is into a fantasy world created by an author of a best setting classics piece of literature, or a part of space that man has yet to see, VR can bring these experiences to our classrooms. As the world globalizes, providing access to information for students is essential, and perhaps VR is the next step.
What are some ways VR can be used?
As designers and developers become more creative, the reach of VR experiences is quickly becoming boundless. Video games are becoming more and more robust and REAL, to the extent that user experience and comfort is a constant consideration. As far as the classroom, Google is forging ahead with quality platforms like Expeditions and user friendly creation tools like Google Blocks and Tiltbrush. For more advanced users, you could consider adding the element for video game design with Unity or Unreal Engine.
I explored the idea of Virtual Reality and education on Episode #36 of the podcast Well PlayED. Michael Matera (host) and I discussed some ideas about how VR could enhance the classroom experience. For a listen, you can listen to the podcast through the iPhone app, or on SoundCloud (link HERE!)
Where is my VR journey taking me?
There are many basic implementation opportunities with VR, such as Expeditions, which I certainly intend to use; however, my focus is looking toward how robust experiences, such as video games, can be added to classrooms or online learning experiences to supplement or substitute for other educational options. Right now, specifically with online learning, the experience is very one dimensional, with a primarily teacher presentation oriented learning experience. I am looking to work with a VR Gaming Developement program (either Unity or Unreal Engine) to create experiences that could be attached to those courses where students could more effectively immerse themselves in the content and participate in the construction of their education.
So should we take a closer look?
At this point I am sure you know my answer is YES! Just as with other educational paradigms, VR needs to be given an appropriate assessment for viability. The only way for that to happen is for teachers to bring it into their classroom and assess its impact. Beyond just the novelty, VR has the potential to allow students to explore in ways that other “simulation” type programs will not be able to compare.
If you are curious about how you could bring VR into your class, I would suggest by starting with looking at Google Expeditions. While there are equipment needs, this is the easiest of the options to overcome. For those of you that are curious about Blocks, TiltBrush, or game development; please feel free to check out my VR Integration Page (LINK), or reach out to me via email (firstname.lastname@example.org) or twitter (@andrewjjulian).
Thanks for reading!