How Virtual Reality Could Change the Classroom Forever
When you hear the term virtual reality, you probably think of the full-immersion video games once reserved for science fiction – but virtual reality today is more than pure fantasy. While the technology is certainly being used for entertainment, educators are finding powerful applications for virtual reality in the classroom, as well. So powerful, in fact, that virtual reality could profoundly change the classroom setting in the not-too-distant future.
Virtual Reality Explained
Virtual reality (VR) is a computer-generated simulation of specific locations that you can explore in 3D. The immersive experience of interacting with an environment in 3D can make you feel as though you are actually there, providing access to multiple vantage points and perspectives, and even allowing you to interact with objects or other participants within the virtual environment. Although the technology has been around since the 1950s and seen most of its application in the gaming sphere, VR is experiencing a renaissance due to increased affordability and technical capabilities. Today, the specialized headset and electronic viewfinder required for VR can be made out of simple cardboard connected to an app on your smartphone. With this development, many fields are starting to take advantage of VR technology, including education.
The Power of Virtual Experiences
Seeing is believing. The chance to discover a place or period of time by virtually experiencing it can provide a much more effective way of learning and understanding than traditional methods such as reading. VR technology allows students to explore firsthand what they could otherwise never or rarely experience and visit areas the average person would find impossible to reach. By viewing historical events or geographical locations in a firsthand, sensory way, students are more likely to develop a complex understanding and lasting memory of the information learned. This kind of hands-on, eye-witness learning has a lasting, positive impact for students, and it allows educators to reinforce information traditionally taught through lectures and reading in a way that only fieldtrips could accomplish prior to VR applications.
Virtual Programs Designed for Schools
Creators of VR technology are both experimenting and diversifying the applications for this powerful tool so that more people can benefit – especially students. Learning initiatives like the Google Expeditions Pioneer Program partner with schools around the world to provide immersive educational opportunities at an affordable price. Unveiled in May 2015 and currently offered at no charge, Google's ever-expanding VR curriculum delivers 360-degree fieldtrips to destinations around the world, throughout time, and into outer space to make what teachers are describing come to life for their students.
STEM Applications for Virtual Reality
Educators are also finding that VR technology is ideal for teaching STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) subjects, since this area of education is one where hands-on experience can be an invaluable tool for teaching more abstract theories. The equations that form the foundation for STEM subjects have real-life applications. VR technology brings these applications off the page and into practice, elevating STEM students to an entirely different level of comprehension and engagement.
The Benefits of Virtual Collaboration
Similarly, virtual reality has the potential to elevate the impact of long-distance collaboration and instruction by placing all participants in a shared environment and allowing them to learn and work together – no matter where they actually are. VR therefore finds an ideal application in online learning. Because of its potential to fully immerse students in a common virtual space via avatars, VR fosters more participation and engagement than traditional 2D tools. Once seen as the wave of the future, VR has arrived in the present and only promises to become more popular. If you haven't used this technology as a student yet, don’t be surprised to see VR enter your classroom; it may even become an integral part of your educational experience.
Written by Ashford University staff