Virtual reality is not new. Simulation spaces such as CAVE (cave automatic virtual environment), and other simulators have been around for nearly two decades. However, the collective technologies that have traditionally gone into such largescale environments were astronomically expensive. But times are changing, and technology that was once reserved for those with the highest of budgets is making its way into all facets of everyday life—including delivering amazing up-close-and-personal experiences to enrich the learning experiences of fertile young minds.
For most schools, integrating virtual reality into the classroom is in its infancy. “It starts with building awareness,” said Maya Georgieva, co-founder at Digital Bodies, an immersive VR/AR/MR consulting group. A small number of students might have experienced Samsung’s Gear VR or Sony’s PlayStation VR headset, but the classroom experience is different.
Georgieva recommended schools first build an awareness about VR and AR outside of the classroom in an extracurricular activity. Then, employees can “think of ways these emerging technologies can connect to what are taking in place in the classroom. Often it is during these events that faculty see the potential of how the technology may connect to their areas of study, research, or classroom.”
Most places only have a small number of high-end VR headsets Georgieva noted. In these cases, other students in the class will see what the headset wearer is viewing on a video wall. “For me it’s not really about wiring every student in the classroom to have a headset on their face,” she said. “Where it is useful now is to enhance the learning experience by having students step into faraway places or witness something up close, and in some cases, being able to walk or interact with objects within the space. Then use these new experiences as an opportunity to enhance the classroom discussion bringing a unique perspective from having been there or stepped into somebody else’s shoes.”
Mixed reality (MR) is taking augmented reality to the next level. “When we talk about mixed reality, it is not only a digital overlay of contextual information, but one where digital objects are integrated into—and responsive to—the natural world and you can actively interact with them,” Georgieva said. This is where products such as Microsoft’s HoloLens and Magic Leap come into play.
Visualization technology, encompassing VR and MR, was cited in EDUCAUSE Center for Analysis and Research’s Higher Education’s Top 10 Strategic Technologies for 2017 report. “What they have in common is that they tap the brain’s inherent ability to rapidly process visual information, identify patterns, and sense order in complex situations,” the report noted.
AR/VR/MR have the ability to enable educators to create a personalized learning experience. “At its core that means that with these new immersive technologies, we are able to give students the opportunity to practice and fail safely,” Georgieva said. “Nothing really breaks in the virtual world the way it does in the physical world. We can respond to students individually and provide feedback to them contextually. This is where I think virtual and immersive technologies will play a huge role in the future of education.”