Not that long ago, virtual reality seemed like a science fiction fantasy to me. We saw it in movies and I read about it in books, but it didn't seem like something that would be in our classrooms anytime soon. How wrong I was!
In the last year, we have found that the technology surrounding virtual reality has become both affordable and accessible to the point where it is now possible to use in a classroom setting. Both the cost and the ease of use make it a no-brainer in today's technology-rich classroom.
Here are some considerations about virtual reality for those who have not yet considered its impact in their classroom:
Why should I consider VR in my classroom?
If you haven't experienced virtual reality yourself, I would suggest that as a good starting point. By downloading an app onto your cell phone and buying some inexpensive viewers, anyone can feel the experience of what it's like to be submerged into an environment.
For me, it was easy to see how this could impact the classroom. As teachers, we try to describe and explain places and settings to our students, but there is nothing like being there. We cannot take field trips to Antarctica, the Eiffel Tower, or downtown Tokyo, but virtual reality is almost the next best thing. It allows us to see things both big and small in a way like we have never seen them before. I believe the technology is only getting better and the opportunities for our students will continue to grow.
How can I get started?
Equipment is probably the number one issue when it comes to virtual reality. Cell phones or smaller devices like iPods are ideal to use for virtual reality. The problem with this is that we don't universally use these devices in schools. Even if every student were to bring their phone—assuming they all had one—the different sizes and operating systems pose a challenge for conducting an easy-to-use virtual reality simulation. We purchased something similar to this from Best Buy. This is not necessarily an endorsement of this product, but just an example of what's available to use.
The advantage to this is pretty obvious: After setting up the router to the wireless network and connecting the devices, the kit is fairly easy to use. Our technology facilitator is able to take the kit from classroom to classroom to do all sorts of different kinds of lessons and learning.
In our district, we decided to purchase new devices that are stand-alone and completely dedicated just for VR. There are multiple options for these kits, but after weighing all of the different options available, we decided that putting one together ourselves would be a lot more work for about the same cost.
What are the advantages to this? And why should we invest the money and time, especially if the devices are only going to be used for VR?
As I stated earlier, there are some obvious responses to this question. Imagine being able to take a field trip to anywhere on the globe and even into the ocean or space. Students can literally look high and low and all around them to feel and understand the geography of the setting that they are in.
The engagement component is another critical selling point to me as an educator. It is becoming harder and harder to excite and engage today’s students. They have so many experiences with technology and learning outside of the classroom that it can be a challenge to meet them where they are at when it comes to engagement and excitement. VR is a solution to this problem. Even if students have phones that they have used for VR, they probably haven’t explored microbacterium or forests in Canada. The ability to create a desire to learn more is a challenge for teachers that VR can help to support.
At the same time, I do not want to oversell the experience. The photos and simulations are really cool, and well worth the money in my opinion, but I would make sure there is a clear plan for how they will get installed and used before purchasing. As always, technology needs to serve the objectives of the classroom and not just be a case of using technology for the sake of it.
Hopefully this has excited you to get started with virtual reality in your classroom—I don’t think you’ll be disappointed. If you'd like to learn more or find some ways to get started, there are numerous teaching tools to go along with this experience. Teachers can prompt students to look at different landmarks or details of the environment. Plus, there are both self-guided student experiences and those that the teacher leads the students through. Looking for unique VR experiences? Google Expeditions is a great starting point. The Google Expedition kit we purchased is connected to the Google world, which made sense for us since we are a Chromebook district.
For more information about where to go to find resources and how to structure lessons in the classroom, be sure to look for part two of our Using Virtual Reality in the Classroom series coming soon. Want to make sure you don’t miss out? Subscribe to the Educator blog today!