The Case for VR in Education

February 17, 2017

I grew up in the 90’s. I’ve been to several different schools in several states, and experienced first hand the full gamut of technology deployed in the classroom. At one end of the spectrum we had no technology. On the other, I was immersed in a nearly 100% computer based learning program. I am somewhat of an enthusiast in terms of educational technology and software.

The new technology that I expect to be integrated into the classroom is virtual reality, or VR. It’s been on the horizon for years, but until recently has remained prohibitively expensive and technologically unwieldy. Today, the costs are being driven down by fierce competition and computers are rapidly catching up to meet the technical requirements of a VR system. In 5-10 years, I expect VR experiences to be a commonplace phenomenon.

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Why is VR important though? Well, much research into VR has historically been focused on it’s usefulness as a training and learning tool. VR is a technology almost tailor made for this purpose. In a VR environment, the user can experience the simulation almost as if it was real. Advances in positional tracking allow VR users to walk around (and through) the environment they’re immersed in. Headset and controllers are tracked, allowing users to use their hands to interact with the simulation.

Key areas I see VR being useful in a K-12 setting are in learning physics, biology, and geography. A VR environment can be made to simulate any imaginable scenario. I see it being particularly useful in the sciences, allowing for life-sized demonstrations of anatomy, physical principles, and 3D maps, all while allowing for these simulations to be interactive. One of the launch showcases for the HTC Vive, Valve’s “The Lab” demonstrated dissecting an MRI scan of the human body, as well as an interactive solar system. These were small demos, but they already show the potential of the platform.

Integration into the classroom is still probably a year or two away. Right now, a single VR setup costs about $2,000 all parts included. It’s a little high, but we’re seeing a downward trend in cost on VR devices. Also, it’s a small price to pay for a device with the potential to replace physical dissection labs, among other things. The physical setup for VR is non-intrusive and only requires the space you intend to use the system in. VR can be used in a sitting and standing position, as well walking around within the VR boundaries. Setting up the software is also straightforward.

In conclusion, I see VR as not only a useful tool in education, but as the next frontier in educational experiences. It has potential to supplement and possibly replace physical labs. It also can provide new experiences for students that have previously been impossible. The only factor limiting its adoption is price and quality software. Both are rapidly approaching where they need to be and it’s only a matter of time before VR will be commonplace in schools.

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Logan Granberry is a Junior Developer at SchoolStatus and, of course, quite an early adapter when it comes to technology. Find out more about what Logan is working on for educators here.

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