With the introduction and growth of social media in the past decade or so, technology has often been blamed for a decrease in social skills and interactions. Although apps such as Facebook and twitter allow for a broader sense of connection and communication across the globe, many educators argue that technology is not just changing but eroding the way people interact with one another. However, a form of technology first introduced in the 1930’s has since made a comeback and is slowly working its way into both personal and professional environments to change this view of computers and other artificial intelligence.
Virtual Reality (VR), which refers to the emulation of real world phenomenon through hardware and software, allows users to physically engage in a 3-D generated virtual environment in order to experience events, places, and people using more than just the five basic senses of sight, hearing, smell, taste, and touch. By placing a user into a high tech, fabricated environment, VR can be used to truly enhance the way subject matters are given over to students, both in and out of the classroom.
Virtual reality can be implemented in one of two ways- either using a traditional desktop and virtual reality software, or using a fully immersive virtual environment (one that requires the student to use a head mounted display- HMD) and data glove for physical interaction and engagement. And, for those truly dedicated to the enrichment of a classroom using technology, lessons can be brought to life using a differentiable form of VR called Augmented Reality (AR).
Augmented reality, an enhanced form of virtual reality, is a means of making learning, which is usually 2-Dimensional, 3-Dimensional. Described simply as the digital display of information on the things that surround us, AR blends technology with real life by allowing developers and users to create an overlay of digital information onto a material thing. By superimposing a digital image onto a physical surface, this form of technology can enrich the way students view subjects such as biology and physiology, and can allow for a more realistic understanding of subjects through visual representation.
So what is so great about virtual reality, and what can it bring to a distance learning environment that traditional learning software cannot? The following are 6 ways in which virtual reality could be indispensable in the online classroom:
- Expand the roles of the classroom– Whereas a traditional classroom is stationary and doesn’t allow for the hands-on exploration of many topics taught, a virtual environment allows students to physically engage in their learning. Using virtual reality software, the typical classroom could be converted from a lecture hall into a vehicle for travel, allowing students to walk through a historic city or building in history class, or grab and manipulating objects, graphs, or data for a math lesson. With virtual reality, a classroom is no longer simply the place where a teacher talks and attempts to show students how things look outside the walls of the school (or in this case, wherever students may be sitting at their computers), but a medium through which students can interact with and learn from the material of a lesson.
- Enhance methods of collaboration– Although there are numerous apps and other software that can be used to allow students to interact and collaborate on assignments, none of them live up to the high standards that virtual reality has set for social integration of learners in an online learning environment. VR technology supports the learning styles of all students, incorporating the auditory, visual, tactile learning preferences of different students into a combined learning environment.
- Add a social-emotional element to learning – Before the times when every adult and child walked around with a smartphone or tablet, and before the internet made video conferencing a possibility, in order to truly communicate, people were required to meet and speak face to face. Now, however, we live in a digital age in which it is almost inconceivable that a person should not have access constant access to social media or email. And, more often than not, meetings and interactions, both in schools and the workplace, are taking place via the internet in 2-Dimensional form, lacking the more concrete feel of a 3-Dimensional environment. However, the use of virtual reality could revive the methods of old, allowing users in a shared virtual environment to communicate and interact more thoroughly. This technology could allow people to make true human connections, regardless of where they are in the world. And, by being able to share virtual realities, students can include others in their experiences, allowing individuals to connect and relate to others in a way never done before. It can change how people perceive one another, working as the ultimate tool for emotional connectivity across the globe.
- Inspire creativity– The greatest teachers are always looking for new ways to touch and inspire their students. Most are hesitant to tap into the endless world of technology, because the countless gadgets can be overwhelming or distracting. But, when used correctly, Virtual Reality can be an avenue for inspiration, pushing students to explore the limits of their imaginations and see how far their creativity can take them.
- Add relatable rewards and incentives for students– Because of the myriad of apps that allow players to work towards incentives and prizes, the younger generation has adapted a unique attitude towards virtual reality and technological interaction. So, instead of simply having students explore concepts and places using VR, add an element of reward to the interactive teaching method. By building teams or achieving specific goals or tasks, students could earn collective bonuses based on academic goals achieved, pushing them to achieve more and reach higher in their learning.
- Virtual Reality can make possible the realistically impossible– This last one speaks for itself. Although technology as a whole has changed the way both students and teachers view education and the classroom, there is no other means by which learners could truly become a part of their lessons and interact with the world on such a physical and realistic level. And, as 20th Century science fiction writer Douglas Adams stated in an interview with The Guardian, “What the computer in virtual reality enables us to do is to recalibrate ourselves so that we can start seeing those pieces of information that are invisible to us but have become important for us to understand.”
For more information about Virtual Reality and its potential in the online classroom, take a look at some of these great links:
Virtual Reality in the Classroom, by The Virtual Reality Society
5 Ways Virtual Reality will Change Education, by Kate Abrosimova
5 Tools to Leverage Augmented Reality, by Laura Devaney
The Augmented Future of eLearning: Augmented Reality in eLearning, by Nicholas Filler
Great Voices of Science Fiction, The Guardian Newspaper