Virtual reality (VR) is an informative medium that possesses the potential to engage students with an immersive, interactive, and virtual 3D experience, usually by looking through the lenses of a VR headset.
Its computer-generated environments replace the real world and simulate the physical presence of people, objects, and realistic sensory experiences. This opens up a window of opportunities to engage with students about concepts in specific contexts that would be near impossible to achieve with traditional teaching methodologies and instructional aids such as textbooks, videotapes, films, software, podcasts, blogs, etc.
The students can move and look around, and sometimes even interact with the virtual content, facilitating a new way of learning. Studies indicate that a virtual environment can stimulate learning and comprehension because it provides a tight coupling between symbolic and experiential information.
VR is still a relatively new technology. Yet, it can make a difference at every level of education, lead learners to new discoveries, motivate and encourage and excite. The learner can participate in the learning environment with a sense of presence, of being part of the environment.
Here are some of the positive outcomes of using virtual reality in the classroom:
- VR adds a new level of fun to the classroom. It leads to higher student engagement and increased rates of participation (including usually quieter kids).
- VR simplifies the understanding of complex concepts through visualizing in 3D. It offers new ways to connect with the learning material through “embodied learning” and multi-sensory experiences.
- It enhances spatial memory and 3D spatial thinking skills, allowing thinking in 3 dimensions on different sizes and scales. It lets students view or experience something otherwise inaccessible and offers personalized learning opportunities.
Though VR can bring many positive advantages to the classroom and unleash student learning potential in new ways, it can sometimes be a cause of concern for teachers and parents when it comes to safety. VR can sometimes be associated with cybersickness or dizziness, video game addiction, or various safety hazards.
About one in 4000 people may have severe dizziness, seizures, eye or muscle twitching, or blackouts triggered by light flashes or patterns. These symptoms and seizures are common in children and young people under the age of 20.
If anyone experiences any of these symptoms, they should discontinue the use of the VR headset and see a doctor. Anyone, who has previously had a seizure, loss of awareness, or other symptoms linked to an epileptic condition should also see a doctor before using the headset.
To reduce the risk of injury or discomfort, educators should always follow these guidelines to safely let your students use virtual reality:
- Before using a VR headset in the classroom, read and follow all setup and operating instructions. Read the safety and regulatory guidelines provided by the headset manufacturer.
- Before exposing the students to VR, make sure the content of the VR fits the age of the students and their development level.
- Make sure that you know whether they’ve already had experience with this medium and how they reacted. Let the students test VR for only a short amount of time (a few seconds) to see how they feel and react.
- Guide the students through their first VR experiences. Help them put the headset on, tell them what they should be seeing, talk to them during the experience. Tell them that the objects they see in the virtual environment do not exist in the real environment, and they don’t sit or stand on them or use them for support.
- Limit the students to a maximum amount of time in VR. Have breaks between VR experiences.
- Make sure that the students don’t move around too much with the VR headset on. Since serious injuries can occur from tripping, running into, or striking walls, furniture, or other objects, you must clear an area for safe use before using the headset.
- Take special care to remove all tripping hazards from the area before using the headset. Ensure the students are not near other people, objects, stairs, balconies, open doorways, windows, furniture, or other items that they can bump into or knockdown when using — or immediately after using the headset.