Education with VR

AUTHOR: TOM BAXTER

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Walk with the dinosaurs! (Image from: Engage)

Virtual Reality (VR) is here and its growth over the past few years has been explosive. More and more varied titles and experiences are consistently pushing what VR can offer and the level of immersiveness we feel with each experience. As a technological enthusiast, witnessing VR’s phenomenal growth has been a joy to behold and like many aficionados of new technology, I find myself constantly pondering, what can we do with this new frontier in technology?

There are many avenues in which VR can go down. The gaming industry has already jumped to the forefront through VR gaming experiences and I have no doubt that platforms such as VR movies and VR broadcasting will completely change the way we view entertainment. However, the area that really fascinates me is when we start to see VR used as an educational tool.

Imagine being back at school, but instead of your teacher drawing the solar system on the board and telling you to read these books so you can learn how the planets rotate around our sun, what if you could be dropped into the middle of the solar system? What if you were surrounded by the planets, moons, asteroids, comets and whatever else may be out there? (Hello E.T.)

The first time I felt what an incredible impact VR could have as an educational tool for teachers is when I first experienced Valves, ‘The Lab’. The Lab offers a variety of VR experiences, but the one that caught my attention was when I got to experience exactly what I just mentioned, a solar system experience. In it, I was walking around the solar system, being able to grab each planet and get a close view of what they looked like and really compare their sizes. Seeing each planet whiz past me as they orbited the sun was incredible and I truly felt I was experiencing our solar system on a level in which television, books or teachers could never give me.

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Interact with and learn while in your virtual world..

Inspired by this, I decided to have my niece and nephew around to see how much of an impact it would have on them. I wrote some questions they had to work together on answering. One would write down the answers while the other interacted with the solar system trying to find the answers to the questions and then swap around. Immediately they were both hooked. Without any prompting, they were asking more questions and wanting to know more about how the solar system worked, they wanted to understand the science behind our solar system and most importantly they were totally immersed in their learning experience. All of a sudden, it wasn’t a task, it was something fun and fascinating. I know if I had of given them a book to read to find out all this information, it would have been a struggle to get them to engage and to learn more, but through the immersiveness of the VR solar system experience, this became something they could not stop talking about according to their parents. To me, this is just the beginning.

VR allows us to go to places we cannot be physically. Imagine students being able to go from their classroom to the deepest depths of our oceans, or back to ancient Rome, even to the time dinosaurs roamed the Earth. All of this is possible now with the emergence of VR technology. As VR improves, I feel there will be an essential space for VR in our educational systems. Having seen the impact VR has on kids, teenagers and adults alike, I am certain VR will be a fantastic educational tool for our teachers to help educate our students.

For more information on the emergence of VR in schools, watch Michael Bodekaer’s tedTalk here:

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