Teaching is about exciting the imagination of students, opening the door for further exploration and developing their understanding of the world around. It’s a journey each of us go on from a young age and an experience that can leave an indelible mark on us as we move forward throughout our lives. The methods used to facilitate this process of discovery vary from teacher to teacher, from class to class. However, what is ubiquitous across all forms of education, is the desire to impart wisdom, to intrigue young minds and send them off on their own voyages of discovery.
Technology has always played a part in this process but now, with the proliferation of low cost virtual reality (VR) solutions, the classroom experience is beginning to enter a whole new realm of interactivity, crafting experiences never seen before. VR technology allows for a complete reconceptualization of the relationship between the student and what he or she is taught. No longer do teachers have to simply describe what life was like on say, the Titanic; now students can explore it for themselves. No longer do teachers have to rely solely on description and video media to explain the inner workings of the human body; simply put on a headset and you’re off swimming alongside red blood cells.
Ever since the inception of VR technology in its current form, some have been doubtful if headsets could get into the hands of students on a truly large scale. VR units have historically come at a high cost – with products such as the Oculus Rift and HTC Vive coming in at the steepest sum – hindering the ability for VR newcomers to fully understand the impact it could have on the teaching process. For headsets to move out of gaming space and truly find the mass audience required to influence other aspects of everyday life, developers have created lower cost solutions i.e. headsets able to work with compatible smartphones. In the context of education, this small but significant step spells the difference between one VR unit per class and one per student, opening the possibility for shared classroom experiences using low cost solutions and creating a culture of VR use. (Rather than individual cases, unable to maintain the adoption rate needed to foster belief in new technologies.)
There are ways significant effects VR could have on teaching. First, as has been established, the realm of possibility for the types of experience offered within the classroom environment would grow exponentially. The exploration of distant planets would become commonplace; an exciting safari just before lunch would become the norm. But another aspect could be even more significant: students may connect with otherwise “stale” subjects, in ways they never thought possible, through the implementation of technology. Now, we all had subjects we liked and didn’t like back in school but imagine the implications of a young student today, using VR to explore the wonders of say, chemistry. The form of that experience could excite his/her mind in new ways, precisely because VR goes beyond mere words, facilitating interactivity and creativity by drawing upon a growing range of software programs.
Low cost apps such as Unimersiv allow for a range of experiences, from a fully animated journey into the human brain to an exploration of Ancient Rome, whilst Google Expeditions allows for VR field trips to over one hundred locations worldwide from the comfort of your average classroom.
Experiences such as these are changing the nature of education, allowing for greater freedom, creative expression and immersion, opening whole new avenues for students to explore.