Will VR change the way we teach forever?
It was just another normal day in 2007 and my ten-year-old self had just completed another marvelous work of art in Microsoft Paint on the computer classroom. Oh so proud I was, to have stacked a brown triangle on top of a gray square, a true digital Picasso one might say. The bulky beige machinery that we only used to “paint” and write the occasional phrase, had been the highlight of the school week. Despite it being 2007, most of my classmates would only have the chance to experiment with a computer at school or their parents’ jobs if they were lucky enough.
It was -and still is- one of the smallest Greek towns after all, and no one needed a home computer back in the day. Not only that but getting your own internet connection meant that you would often receive written lists from your classmates for songs you should illegally download and then transfer to their tiny MP3 players.
The time we “teleported”
On that same day in 2007, merely 45 minutes later, I experienced the miracle of video conferencing for the first time in my life. My English teacher spent the better part of 30 minutes connecting our computer on a webcam, and with a click of a button, we were magically chatting with a class in Bulgaria. I honestly got the chills writing this because I can still remember the feeling of connecting with someone so far away from your tiny town. It was freeing to say the least. My never-ending love for technology and the internet had just begun.
Fast forward 15 years later and I find myself creating Virtual Reality experiences for my Master’s in Edu Tech. It is this awesome feeling of interconnection, of escaping the usual, creating memorable and meaningful experiences as we did with that class in Bulgaria, but on steroids.
The stereoscope and the View-Master era
I’m pretty sure something similar happened to one or probably many British kids back in the 19th century, after the invention of the stereoscope. While those Victorian families enjoyed their “virtual” travels looking at tiny images through two equally tiny mirrors, the ever so popular View-Master had already seen its early days too! Soon, the famous red pair of binoculars started being used to picture Disney characters and exotic countries. Coincidentally, it became especially useful during World War II for aircraft identification since paper was scarce at the time.
While Oculus Rift might have been the central talking point of every young gamer’s conversation in 2016, it’s still very important to recognize the future-proof dream of virtual reality, especially since it’s just now actualizing itself.
Virtual Reality and Education: The facts
As of the year 2022, immersive technologies are rapidly gaining ground in many aspects of our daily lives from entertainment to surgery practice, and the field of education is no exception. The good news is that it’s not just educators who started giving VR its well-deserved attention, but it’s researchers too. Here’s what we know so far.
Theoretically, it should work
When it comes to the theoretical background around learning and instructional design, proper use of immersive technologies can be beneficial for learning. Giving students the ability to interact, simulate and immerse into real-life situations and problems, students learn to cooperate and engage in a process we call “authentic learning”. The high engagement rate that comes with the students’ ability to learn through something real -something that they actually care about-, can radically transform the entire classroom’s atmosphere and motivate students to achieve their learning objectives.
It’s not just about the learning objectives
While hitting specific learning goals is of significant importance, there’s another, more subtle part of the progress that learners experience which is tied to the development of soft skills. Research shows that students’ participation in virtual reality programs helps them with critical thinking and decision making, while simultaneously improving their sense of responsibility as members of a group.
We know it works but not how to make it work.
Virtual Reality at this point is like a machine that works be we don’t know exactly how. If something breaks, we can’t really fix it, and we can speculate on the ways and mechanisms that it works but we wouldn’t be able to take it apart piece-by-piece. These are the exact gaps that researchers are trying to fill in. Knowing how to make VR work for every age and every learning object and getting solid data will be our key to educational integration.
An EduVR platform that works: VRTY
When new teachers ask me for an easy and fun platform that they can use for their classes, I always introduce them to VRTY.io. It’s a place where anyone can create VR and 360º experiences from scratch, customize them to the greatest extent, and share them with others whether they have VR goggles or not.
What’s even more important, is their significant effort to promote scientific research with their participation in an ongoing project with the Association of Independent Schools of South Australia (AISSA). In cooperation with Newcastle University and schools from around the globe, it will be a world-first research project of this size. The first results are quite encouraging. Students seem to be more excited and engaged in the learning process, which can play a huge role in improving their grades. Hopefully the publication of their next paper can shed more light on the realities behind VR integration in education.
Until then, enjoy this discussion I recently had with VRTY’s CEO, Kingston Lee-Young about his experience working in the EduVR field so far.
Association of Independent Schools of South Australia. (2021, November 24). World-first Virtual Reality Classroom Study. [Press release]. https://www.ais.sa.edu.au/aissa-vr-research-project/
Frank Ebinger, Livia Buttke, & Julian Kreimeier. (2022). Augmented and virtual reality technologies in education for sustainable development: An expert-based technology assessment. TATuP — Zeitschrift Für Technikfolgenabschätzung in Theorie Und Praxis, 31(1). https://doi.org/10.14512/tatup.31.1.28
Karageorgakis, T., & Nisiforou, E. A. (2018). Virtual Reality in the EFL Classroom: Educational Affordances and Students’ Perceptions in Cyprus. The Cyprus Review, 30(1), 381–20.
Pellas, N., Mystakidis, S., & Kazanidis, I. (2021). Immersive Virtual Reality in K-12 and Higher Education: A systematic review of the last decade scientific literature. Virtual Reality, 25(3), 835–861. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10055-020-00489-9
Southgate, E., Grant, S., Ostrowski, S., Norwood, A., Williams, M., Tafazoli, D. (2022, March 12) School students creating a virtual reality learning resource for children. Conference on Virtual Reality and 3D User Interfaces, Auckland, New Zealand.
More on VRTY: