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How VR is Disrupting Education

  • 20 February 2018
  • Walter Couture

“Space: The final frontier,” is a familiar opening to a popular science-fiction series on space exploration. Wouldn’t it be great if our school-age children could go along on those exciting trips? Our classrooms have textbooks on space travel, space stations, rocket launches, moon and planet facts, and descriptions. There are some videos of space activity. But it’s all one-dimensional and not very engaging.

Take the bridge, Mr. Spock

That is all changing as Virtual Reality systems are being brought into classrooms to put students on the bridge of spaceships and shuttles, sitting in the control room and marveling at the passing stars and galaxies far away. VR is bringing science to life for students in a way never dreamed possible a few years ago. Students don’t just read about space anymore. They now live the life of astronauts.

Immersive VR Education is a VR company that created an app to simulate a lecture hall in virtual reality while adding special effects not possible in a traditional classroom setting.  Lectures are enhanced by images, videos, and immersive experiences. For example, students learn about Apollo 11 while the instructor is lecturing as if they were all inside the space shuttle.

Another major asset of VR learning is that students and professors can be anywhere in the world, making it a global classroom.

SpaceVR CEO Ryan Holmes explains VR this way:

There are countless creative young minds that are passionate about science and space exploration. Until now, we only read in textbooks about these topics but with virtual reality on the horizon set to redefine future in every walk of life, introducing SpaceVR into a classroom setting will help the students understand first-hand what space feels like.

NASA is involved in this initiative as well, by launching a VR camera to the International Space Station to capture virtual reality content for people around the world the view.

But VR content isn’t just for space. Content covers all the areas of STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Art, and Mathematics). And it’s being developed for countless other areas, from cooking to car repairs.

Back to the future

To learn cooking, what can be better than standing in the kitchen with an expert chef? VR does that, and it’s much more engaging than reading recipes. 3D content from many fields is being captured by several VR entrepreneurial companies. One of them is Seene. Andrew McPhee is CEO and co-founder, and he relates that he has taken a VR cooking class and used VR to fix a broken object. He says,

Learning to drive or fly or operate on patients are great examples of how you can practice something critical with high realism and very low risk.

VR takes students into more than 3D. It addresses the scientific theory of time travel — moving between different points in time, a popular subject for science fiction for decades. Many novels and books have featured the subject including “Doctor Who,” “Star Trek,” and “Back to the Future.”

Time travel may or may not be feasible, and many scientists feel that, even if it were possible, any attempt to do it would result in human fatality. But in the world of virtual reality, those dangers do not exist.

Bob Berry is CEO and co-founder of Envelop, another VR company, says, “Can you imagine teaching children about world history by letting them virtually experience it?” VR will allow students to go on trips and visit places they could never visit in person. And more than this, they can be transported back to a time and be a part of some historic event. As Berry says, “They’ll retain the information from these events so much better because it will be as if they lived it themselves.”

VR in the classroom

VR has moved on from military, aviation, and gaming applications. Today, VR applications are being developed by dozens of entrepreneurs in the education field who want a piece of the estimated $200 billion dollar market by 2020. Companies like zSpace, AlchemyVR, and Immersive VR Education are providing packaged educational curriculum and content for progressive classrooms and learning labs.

Google is making it possible for schools throughout the country to experience VR with its Expeditions program free to all schools, aiming to facilitate faster adoption rates of VR in classrooms.” The more that schools use VR, the more likely investors will fund the start-ups to create content, hardware, and software that will provide more exciting experiences for students.

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Launched in September 2015, Expeditions is a one-day program being used by thousands of schools around the world that get a kit containing everything a teacher needs to take her class on a virtual trip. The kit includes Asus smartphones, a router, a library of 100+ virtual trips, and Google Cardboard viewers or Mattel ViewMasters that turn the smartphones into VR headsets.

More and more VR platforms are being developed all the time, like AltspaceVR, LectureVR (from Immersive VR Education), and SurrealVR. Initiatives like these are using converted lecture content and presentations, avatars and other VR techniques and gaming to support educational experiences that support exploration and socialization.

Contrary to the notion of VR being an isolated event, it is a networked environment that allows students to communicate and collaborate with each other. This commonality is promoting new levels of cultural understanding and shared experiences.

VR in the field

VR is not limited to the classroom. It’s there in the field, too. One VR company, Woofbert VR, offers a unique way for students to visit an art gallery giving them the opportunity to take a field trip that they would never normally get to experience. They can explore galleries following any path they choose, can zoom in on paintings of interest, and can listen to audio segments on certain exhibits.

At many museums, students see signs to “Do not touch.” They get disengaged and turn to their cellphones for interest. A VR company called Gamar is addressing this problem, using Augmented Reality (AR) to make museum visits more engaging. The company's app creates interactive experiences and supplemental information that the students can access at certain museum locations by just pointing their cellphones at an exhibit.

So VR is influencing almost every area of study in education today, both inside and outside the classroom. Dozens of start-ups are creating hundreds of exciting applications using advanced VR technology. The huge VR market is offering an enormous financial potential to entrepreneurs and investors.

All of this activity is leading up to a full VR disruption of Education today. In the words of Star Trek, it will take us to “a place where no man has gone before.”

About Walter Couture

Walter is an award-winning writer and blogger; former K12 teacher, corporate and college executive. Managed $100 million sales force for Monster.com. Received BA in Psychology from University of Minnesota, MA in Teaching & Learning with Technology from Ashford University.