The Promises and Pitfalls of Virtual Reality in Education

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Virtual reality may be the next big wave in education. Most experts see long-term promise, but limited immediate impact in classrooms. In some form, virtual reality has been around for a long time. However, many advocates believe that its time is coming and that it has the potential to transform many aspects of how students experience learning.

Virtual reality typically is defined as a computer-generated experience that immerses participants in what feels like reality. Most, but not all, virtual reality experiences involve a headset to block out reality and replace it with what seems like reality.

Virtual reality has the potential to generate the experience of being in any place or circumstance in the world and beyond, without the expense and risk of actually being there. Students can travel under the ocean, scale the most rugged mountains, or experience the inside of the digestive system. While education-focused content for virtual reality systems has lagged behind the development of hardware, recent progress is evident.

Proponents argue that virtual reality can generate interest, build understanding, and support recall better than most classroom based experiences. Further, research shows that most students react positively to virtual reality experiences.

Still, virtual reality has yet to show much penetration in schools. Recent surveys show only about five percent of teachers are currently using virtual or augmented reality experiences in their classrooms. Predictions are that by 2021, that number will grow to 15 percent, but this number still represents a small minority of educators. Meanwhile, there is a “wild card” in the adoption curve: manufacturers are promoting the purchase of virtual reality systems as a component of large technology purchases. As computers purchased a few years ago in the one-to-one computer push are aging and need to be replaced, manufacturers and developers hope to add virtual reality programs to the purchasing mix.

Obviously, a key question to be answered relative to an investment in virtual reality is whether it will enhance learning experiences to a level that merits the investment of time, effort, and money required. The answer remains less than clear.

Meanwhile, there are emerging concerns related to virtual reality for us to heed. Formal studies and informal usage with students have surfaced some downsides to virtual reality experiences. The most significant concerns relate to its use by young learners.

It is not clear what impact virtual reality experiences have on developing brains. A minority of students experience nausea, headaches, and dizziness following virtual reality sessions. Depth perception also has been altered immediately following virtual reality experiences, so care must be taken to avoid having students fall or bump in to objects. Further, fears and phobias students already have are sometimes exacerbated as a result of virtual reality experiences. At least one researcher has recommended that virtual reality sessions be no longer that 15 minutes for young children. One provider recommends that children under 13 have little to no extended experiences with virtual reality.

Researchers also recommend that educators take a close look at content marketed as educational to be sure that it is well-designed and adheres to good learning practices. The featured topics and experiences also need to be aligned with intended learning and appropriate for the age and maturity of youth involved.

Without question, virtual reality in some form is on the horizon for education. Its potential appears almost limitless. However, decisions about when and how to engage our students with virtual reality, at least for now, deserve healthy skepticism and careful study.

 

 

Resources:
Herold, B. & Molnar, M. (2018, February 8). Virtual Reality for Learning Raises High Hopes and Serious Concerns. Education Week, 37(20), 10. Retrieved from https://www.edweek.org/ew/articles/2018/02/08/virtual-reality-for-learning-raises-high-hopes.html

Yamada-Rice, D., Mushtaq, F., Woodgate, A., Bosmans, D., Douthwaite, A., Douthwaite, I., Harris, W., Holt, R., Kleeman, D., Marsh, J., Milovidov, E., Mon Williams, M., Parry, B., Riddler, A., Robinson, P., Rodrigues, D., Thompson, S., and Whitley, S. (2017). Children and Virtual Reality: Emerging Possibilities and Challenges. Retrieved from http://digilitey.eu

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