Virtual Reality (VR) is defined as a "... computer-generated simulation of a three dimensional image or environment that can be interacted with in a seemingly real or physical way by a person using special electronic equipment..." (Freina and Ott p.1). Yet, there are questions as to how and why the technology should be used in an educational setting. During the Fall 2017 semester, I will be exploring ways in which VR and Augmented Reality (AR) can be implemented in a classroom setting. Prior to taking a deep dive into implementation, I want to answer the question of WHY?
First, VR eliminates time barriers in the classroom. Students in Southern California would not be able to take a physical field trip to the site at which gold was discovered in Northern California in 1849 - there is not enough time in the school day. Moreover, students can explore the site at which gold was discovered in Northern California as if it were 1849.
In addition to solving for time problems, VR creates equity when physical access becomes an issue. Students with special needs may benefit from being able to access content in VR. There is also places where humans are unable to visit - like the depths of the oceans. Using 360 degree videography, robotic submersibles can capture images and share it back to the classroom.
VR also solves for a related problem - limitations due to danger. Students preparing to enter a dangerous or expensive career - like firefighting or airborne combat - can benefit from experiences produced in VR. One might also see an application of VR in counseling and child psychology.
Lastly, VR can give students experience in cases where it would otherwise be unethical. A high school senior in an anatomy and physiology course is most certainly prepared to conduct brain surgery. However, VR allows for this student to experience brain surgery as a preview to a possible career path.
With that said, the current state of VR equipment in 2017 is a barrier for use in the classroom. Inexpensive solutions do not provide students with a completely immersive experience. Other equipment may provide a higher quality of experience, but is cost prohibitive for schools. I am excited to see the future of VR - and the ways in which it can be more easily implemented in education.