By Susan Hoffman
Contributor, Online Learning Tips
Virtual reality isn’t just for gaming anymore.
To engage students and improve their retention of material taught in classrooms, educators have increased their use of virtual reality instruction. Virtual reality is now used to teach students of all ages in several academic areas.
VR Helps Younger Students Better Understand Geography, Art and Science
In September 2015, Google created Google Expeditions, a smartphone virtual reality app. With the assistance of a teacher’s tablet and Google Cardboard viewers, students from elementary, middle and high schools take virtual reality “field trips” to thousands of locations, including:
- The International Space Station
- Mount Everest
- An art museum or historic building
- An underwater coral reef or shipwreck
- A rainforest
- A concert hall or recording studio
During the “field trip,” the teacher asks insightful questions to make students think about what they’re seeing in the virtual world. Students are then required to provide thoughtful answers to the teacher’s queries. As a result, students have a more meaningful and fun educational experience to remember.
For Adult Learners, Virtual Reality Instruction Offers Greater Insights in Medical Fields
In an August 2016 EdTech article, “Three Ways Med Students Can Use Virtual Reality,” journalist Meghan Bogardus Cortez described uses of virtual reality in the medical field. Cortez noted that “In addition to allowing students to immerse themselves in simulation, VR can deliver other educational benefits that can assist med students as they scrub into their careers.”
Cortez also observes that virtual reality instruction allows medical students to have a more effective environment for practicing their skills and experience symptoms from a patient’s point of view. If desired, medical students can even watch 3-D surgeries.
Similarly, California company Anatomage has created a virtual reality product called the Anatomage Table. This display table is capable of showing many life-size images that enable medical instructors to explain concepts and show the relationships between different systems in male and female bodies.
The Anatomage Table isn’t restricted to the human body, either. Anatomage’s digital library also contains animal images for instructing veterinary students.
Engineering Students Also Benefit from Virtual Reality
The London South Bank University in England installed a virtual reality auditorium to aid engineering students. These students use a headset and specialized VR software to visualize “complex problems and develop creative solutions,” according to a November 2015 Engineering.com article.
Three professors at the Technical University of Lisbon say virtual reality is particularly helpful for training civil engineers. In a September 2014 scholarly article, instructors AlcÃnia Z. Sampaio, Pedro G. Henriques and Pedro S. Ferreira noted that virtual reality engineering models were used to “distinct advantage as educational aids in first-degree courses in civil engineering.” Virtual reality allows students to see construction processes, follow the progress of an engineering project and visualize sections of the project as needed.
Will Virtual Reality Instruction Become Commonplace in Education?
The major barrier to universal adaptation of virtual reality in education is cost. Smartphones cost several hundred dollars and virtual reality headsets such as Google Cardboard start at $15 on Amazon. For products such as the Anatomage Table, the cost rises to $70,000.
However, who knows where virtual reality will go in the future? Virtual reality has spread into a variety of educational fields through the imagination of developers and educators.
Perhaps that same creativity could be harnessed to create more affordable and versatile products, so that more students will be able to enjoy the educational benefits of virtual reality in their schools and homes.