What Is The Role of Virtual Reality in Education? Kevin’s VR Series – Part I | 3 Min Read

My hope is that this space will offer school administrators and teachers information on emerging technologies and how they might transform our programs.

Over 25 years ago, I saw the movie Disclosure. I remember virtual reality (VR) being very logical. Of course, we should be able to walk up to a virtual filing cabinet and pull out a virtual file to review. Years later, I learned about Second Life, when one of my students told me he opened a shop in the VR world and was getting paid real money to fix items in the virtual world. I was impressed he could make money with skill in Second Life in a shop that did not exist in what most people would call the “real world”. Now the idea of in-app purchases of virtual items is part of everyday life.

Early versions of virtual worlds were necessary for training people on dangerous tasks like flying an airplane. These experiences required very large, and expensive, computers to run the simulations. Society is transitioning to cheaper headsets, standalone headsets, WebVR, and phones that can show 360-video with 3DoF (degrees of freedom). Current estimates are for sales of VR headsets to exceed 65 million units this year offering increased access to virtual content to a wider market of consumers. While much of the content is targeting the gaming industry, we do see emerging trends in documentary movies and educational content. The National Science Foundation has been investing in the research and development of companies using VR as an educational tool.

The research being conducted regarding the use of VR in education, and other fields, and the learning impact is occurring in many countries. Early indicators point toward increased rates at which students acquire and retain information. The immersive environment allows the viewer a rich connection to the content. Additionally, “heat maps” showing the most viewed portions of the VR lesson are allowing teachers and researchers to improve the content available.

During the pandemic, schools have looked for experiences connecting their communities and maintaining social ties while physical distancing, reduced class size, and remote learning are required. Many schools have invested heavily in a range of cameras, sound systems, bandwidth, … to facilitate a variety of classrooms not envisioned only a year ago. As society emerges out of the pandemic there will be a residual effect on schools emboldened to try new programs, offer new formats, and transform their business model using the new tools.

Most students in independent schools carry a smartphone each day. Apple and Google have invested significant resources in augmented reality (AR) with ARKit and ARCore.

Over one billion smartphones use AR and can be loaded with apps supporting a range of options for teachers and students. Having taught high school mathematics for many years, I know what my students saw when I tried to draw a 3-D graph in colored chalk.

Now there are free apps where students can type in the equation and the 3-D graph, perfectly rendered, appears to float over their desk when looking at their phone.

Textbook publishers are investing significant time and money in a process to transition books to documents featuring update material, images, graphs, … through AR apps as new information becomes available.

Emerging trends have always been a challenge for teachers and administrators. I work at Rutgers Prep, founded in 1766. At some point, faculty in schools had conversations about how to convert from quills to pens and pencils, how to incorporate textbooks, when should the school add email, …. Graphics on screens will soon approach the level where the human eye will not be able to distinguish a difference between computer-generated and reality. The speed on the 5G network will offer downloads about 100 times faster than our current networks.

Administrators and teachers will be able to integrate all of these tools with immersive technologies just as they have embraced appropriate changes in society throughout history. It is my hope to share emerging technologies capable of transitioning education in this space.

Go to the next article in this series: How Easily Can Students Create in Virtual Reality? | Kevin Merges.

By Kevin Merges, Executive Director of Global Education Programs / Director of the Innovation Center, Rutgers Preparatory School (NJ)

Kevin Merges

Dr. Kevin Merges has been Executive Director of Global Education Programs and Director of The Innovation Center, Rutgers Preparatory School (NJ) since 2014. Previously, he was a teacher and Director of Program Advancement at Rutgers Prep School since 2000. He has taught math and research at Rutgers Preparatory School and Rutgers University. He serves as a representative of the United Nations Education Committee.

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