Virtual Reality for Learning

​Virtual reality is just awesome! I remember how thrilled I was on the Disney World ride that took me through the bloodstream. I can only imagine how exciting it will be to experience travelling through an actual blood vessel.
The Horizon Report: 2016 K-12 Edition article on Virtual Reality, gives “computer generated environments that simulate the physical presence of people and/or objects and realistic sensory experiences” two to three years to be mainstream in schools. This certainly seems realistic considering Google has produced a $20 virtual reality viewer that operates simply by attaching to a smart phone, and when viewed with the free application Google Expeditions users can visit hundreds of destinations including some underwater.  There are many other educational apps freely available although most are developed solely for Apple devices. Best Buy puts together Google Expeditions Kits for 30 students for the rather exorbitant bundle price of $9,999.
Michael Bodekaer’s Ted Talk on October 2015 “This virtual lab will revolutionize science class” argues for the effectiveness of combining virtual reality simulations with hands on training and offers evidence that when a science teacher uses this method they are twice as effective. Bodekaer and his colleagues formed the company Labster for developed developing fully interactive advanced lab simulations that combine gamification elements such as an immersive 3D universe, storytelling and a scoring system. They have developed two dozen labs on different subjects in the fields of biology, chemistry, and medicine which you must contact the company for pricing. You can sign up for a rather good safety lab simulation that is free.
There are flight simulators and sailing simulators (Sail Simulator 5), you can experience the Apollo 11 mission, or make a virtual expedition into a cell (MoleculE VR), learn a language (House of Languages) or paint in a new dimension (Tilt Brush). The most effective use in the science classroom is for carrying out activities that might require very expensive equipment like a spectrophotometer for analyzing water samples, or an activity that would take to long for a school laboratory session like mouse breeding experiments, or activities that require the use of dangerous materials or equipment. Learners can also visit ecosystems, solar systems, and undersea worlds they may never get a chance to experience in real life. Students and educators can even build their own virtual reality simulations with Roundme and CoSpaces.
My retired teacher friend fears that virtual reality, particularly with the creation of haptic technology (i.e., wearable, kinesthetic communication), will make us even more the isolated, couch potatoes that will be our evolutionary demise. We won’t need to go out of our homes to experience anything and we will be able to have all our relationships with created characters. For sure there will be individuals who will be consumed by the technology, just like the ones who are addicted to video games now, but I think of people who, because of physical or economic barriers, will never be able to try surfing or scuba diving yet here is a technology that will let them enjoy the experience. Think of all the greenhouse gas emissions that will be reduced because people won’t have to fly around the world looking for new experiences in exotic places.
When I think about my philosophy of education that begins with a desire to inspire others to want to know more, I think virtual reality will be a valuable addition to my teacher’s toolbox. My Google Cardboard device will arrive in the mail this week and it will be the subject of a future blog.