virtual reality

Integrating Virtual Reality into Our Classrooms—Is it Worth It?

As technology becomes a staple in classrooms around the world, the viability of using Virtual Reality (VR) is questioned. How can we use it, and is it worth it?

Virtual Reality was a hot topic at ISTE 2015 thanks to keynote speaker Soledad O’Brien. In her speech, O’Brien spoke highly of VR technology and what it can do for a classroom. She said the technology allows students to try out different careers and gives them experiences that could potentially alter their choice of vocation. O’Brien even brought ten conference attendees on stage to try out Google Cardboard.

Google Cardboard is a VR platform that uses a head mount and a smartphone. The conference attendees used the headsets to take a virtual test drive of a career in veterinary surgery.

Since its mention at the conference last year, companies have been working to get their VR technology into more classrooms. According to EdTech Magazine, several global companies including Samsung, HTC, Sony, and Oculus have put millions of dollars into developing their brand of VR.

In February, some of that technology was taken to schools in California and Florida. Students in the San Francisco Unified School District and Polk County Public Schools in Florida became the first to use Nearpod VR lesson plans. Nearpod VR uses Google Cardboard and interactive panoramic images to develop content for educational use.

Using the Nearpod VR technology, teachers are able to send their students on over 25 virtual field trips. According to Fortune, the field trips include “first-person tours of the ancient pyramids of Egypt, the caves on Easter Island, the marine biomes of the Great Barrier Reef, Mars, patriotic landmarks across the U.S., and the tallest buildings in the world in Dubai.”

VR technology is being implemented into lesson plans in other countries as well. Newsround released a video in May of students in London using VR headsets. The teacher in the video is excited about the VR integration in his class. “We can go on a school trip under the sea, we can go on a school trip to Mars, we can go on a school trip anywhere around the world all without leaving London.”

“It makes it more fun to come to school because you know that everyday you’re going to get surprised and at the same time you’re going to learn,” said one student.

Lindsay MacCuaig, a teacher at Green Street Academy in Baltimore, was impressed at the impact that VR technology had in her class. “As a school teacher of fifteen years, I seek to create moments of complete engagement for my students—times in which they are fully absorbed in given activities and thought. Alchemy VR provided just that, and did so within a matter of minutes. Students went from being scattered and distracted to being fully present and awake, as if they suddenly remembered their seemingly dormant sense of curiosity.”

Hypergrid Business made a list of the top five ways that VR can change education.

  1. Greater collaboration and social integration
  2. New experiences that would not otherwise be possible
  3. Increased student motivation
  4. New approach to rewards
  5. Inspiring creative learning

While many think the impact of VR on education can only be positive, not everyone is convinced. Education policy analyst Tom Murray is wary of the effect that VR and technology in general actually have in the classroom. He worries that the devices overrun the classroom and become the focus of the lesson, rather than the educational content.

“Too often, districts are focused on the device. How do we shift focus of the devices in the classroom to enhance teaching and learning?” said Murray, according to EdTech Magazine.

If VR is to become a large part of education, teachers must be able to ensure a healthy balance between learning about the technology itself along with the actual lesson plans.

One of the biggest questions that arises from the movement to get VR into the classroom is the cost. The cardboard headsets are relatively inexpensive themselves, but because they are smartphone powered and people must be trained to use them, the costs add up quickly.

With help from the Knight Foundation, Marc Benioff, and Krillion Ventures, Nearpod raised $100,000 in grants to provide schools with VR lesson plans and headsets. The grants will be awarded to around thirty schools this year. The San Francisco and Polk County district schools were the first grant recipients.

Hannah Flynn

Hannah Flynn

Hannah is a Boston-based writer who hails from Ohio. She has recently become interested in photography and loves taking portraits. You can normally find her curating her Instagram feed and eating all things carbs.