Virtual reality has potential as a learning tool in classrooms, but don’t rush its use until the technology has been well-tested by teachers and students.
I’m typically not an early adopter nor one to trumpet the “next big thing” in educational technology. During my years as a district ed tech director, I often encouraged schools — and especially principals fresh from a conference where they were wowed by some promising but expensive new ed tech tool — to hold off and let the product mature. Let others be the company’s beta testers.
So, no surprise, even though virtual reality (VR) is being touted as one of the “next big things” in ed tech, I haven’t yet purchased a high-end virtual reality headset. But I do have one of the cheap cardboard varieties. Using a couple of free VR applications on my iPhone, I recently spent some time exploring the classroom possibilities for VR. Aside from getting dizzy (note to self: move your head slowly while navigating virtual environments) I saw some of the potential that VR holds for classrooms.
Though generally skeptical of “virtual fieldtrips” (I’m an advocate for getting kids out into the real world as much as possible, believing any virtual options are poor substitutes), I was intrigued by some of the VR excursions I took. But aside from the educational tourism aspects of VR, and some interesting science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) possibilities, one of VR’s touted benefits is the possibility for building students’ empathy. If used thoughtfully by teachers, I believe VR opportunities can provide a new way to help students better appreciate the lives of others around the world.
While there are lots of compelling “this changes everything” testimonials from some enthusiastic early adopter teachers, is VR ready for prime time? If it’s not ready today, but probably will be within the next few years, how should school leaders help their teachers prepare for this eventuality? Here’s what I suggest:
There are a number of good articles to get one exposed to VR’s educational possibilities. Common Sense Media’s, 4 Ways to Use Augmented and Virtual Reality Apps in the Classroom and Getting Smart’s, 7 Top Educational Virtual Reality Apps are helpful places to start. And Edutopia’s piece, Will Virtual Reality Drive Deeper Learning? takes a discerning look into the educational possibilities and potential shortcomings of VR.