How virtual reality will change education

November 23, 2015

It’s been awhile since something revolutionized education as much as the Internet did, and in some ways schools and teachers are still struggling on how to best take advantage of it. Things take time, but I really do hope that the next big leap does not take twenty years to sink in. So, what’s the next big thing in education?

Virtual Reality.

You might have already heard someone mention it or read about it on gaming websites, but gaming is only one part of what will make virtual reality change everything. Right now the content created for virtual reality can be put into two categories. They are either using 360 video or computer generated graphics.

360 video

When a user views 360 video they find themselves at the center of the action. They can look around in all directions which makes it possible to experience how it is to stand in a classroom in Africa or watch a concert from the stage.

Computer generated content

This approach is used for interactive experiences and the development process mimic the process used when developing traditional games. Since virtual reality has the power to bring the user into new and exciting worlds a lot of applications simply got rid of the gaming aspect of and started to explore other areas, these applications are often called experiences.

###But, how does this fit into a classroom? As a virtual reality enthusiast it is pretty easy to start rambling about the benefits of the medium and I personally always seem to end up with phrases like “and there’s no end to the possibilities!”. So, instead of doing that I’ll give you a few examples.

Imagine being able to end a history lesson with a visit to the specific time period. It might be watching gladiators battle it out in ancient Rome or sitting on the bedside of a man dying from the Spanish flu. The feeling of actually being there is so strong that the students will not remember the experience like when they consume ordinary media but as if they were actually there.

Even though this is year zero for virtual reality there is already a lot of content that lets the user experience amazing things. It’s currently possible to follow an ebola survivor in Sierra Leone which makes the headset into a empathy machine, we can zoom out into space to watch the solar system in all its glory and we can stand at the bottom of the ocean watching sea turtles and sharks swim around us.

Moving away from experiences and into more interactive applications we’ll be able to learn by trial and error in a whole new way. It is hard not to imagine a virtual reality chemistry set which would allow the student to do experiments that are simply too dangerous to do without supervision. Biology classes would also be able to utilize this medium by allowing the user to enter the human body and see how everything works on a cellular level. Ever wondered how a virus works up close, now you can!

The technology behind it

Right now we have two major branches of virtual reality. We have the stationary devices like the Oculus rift and the HTC vive. These are the premium headsets on the market and running them requires a powerful computer that can set you back over $1,000, but then you’ll get the best experience money can buy. An excellent alternative to stationary headsets are the mobile ones. They are not as powerful as the desktop devices but they make up for it by being very easy to handle and easy to to bring with you. A Google cardboard compatible device might be a good choice if you just want to get your feet wet but the Samsung GearVR is the headset that delivers the best experience, and since the latter is only $99 I would advice anyone that is serious on bringing virtual reality to the classroom to go that route.

In summary

This has been a brief post about what possibilities virtual reality might bring to the table, but you don’t need to wait. Right now there are experiences that will let you travel with the Apollo program into space, applications that will show you the differences in scale of everything in the universe and 360 movies that can take you anywhere from east Africa to the Syrian refugee camps.

There’s no end to the possibilities!