How Teachers Can Use Virtual and Augmented Reality
By Chris Pierce, Brentwood Borough School District
In the ever-growing world of educational technology resources, teachers find themselves with many new educational technology tools available as a means of supplementing their instructional methods and pedagogical approaches. While some of these are more applicable to specific grade levels and content areas than others, those that incorporate virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) stand out for a variety of reasons.
Apps that utilize VR and AR provide immersive experiences that engage students in ways that cannot be replicated in the two-dimensional world of textbooks and handouts. Our students live in a world driven by screens, so why not capitalize on these technologies to bolster student engagement by creating learning experiences that only a few years ago seemed like science fiction.
Virtual Reality Defined
It is important to note the difference between virtual reality and augmented reality to better understand their applicability to specific learning environments and instructional objectives. Virtual reality (VR) is extremely immersive educational technology and typically utilizes 360 degree images to replicate the visual experience of seeing an object, destination, or process from the first-person perspective.
By using a smartphone, educational apps, and a VR headset, students can be instantly transported to locations that would otherwise be inaccessible in the classroom. Examples of these types of lower-end headsets include Google Cardboard and the Mattel View-Master Deluxe. While there are higher-end forms of VR available such as the HTC Vive or Oculus Rift, these come with expensive price tags and necessitate high-powered GPU computer processors that are not practical expenses for the average school district.
Augmented Reality Defined
Augmented reality (AR) has the potential to bring even more options into the classroom in terms of interactivity and accessibility. This technology projects a three-dimensional digital object into the physical space of the real world by utilizing the high-powered camera and processor found in most smart phones and tablets today. Students can explore that object from all angles and perspectives to provide a learning experience that teeters on the edge of real-life, especially those that feature the human body with interactive lungs, hearts, or brains.
VR and AR in the Classroom
Both VR and AR have found their way into the classroom in a number of ways, bringing the ideals of STEM learning into non-traditional spaces in schools, such as the content areas of social studies and language arts. Educational apps that utilize VR like Google Expeditions provide the ability for teachers to transport students to virtual locations. These include destinations that are typically historic or scientific in nature, with hundreds of options available to educators across content areas.
If just viewing virtual images leaves your students with the desire to do more with VR, then perhaps creating their own virtual worlds through educational apps like CoSpaces Edu will fulfill that need. With this program, students are able to build their own virtual spaces utilizing a variety of tools and objects at their dispose. Once the creation piece (which can also incorporate coding) is complete, students can then explore and interact with their virtual space via a smartphone and a VR headset.
On the AR side of educational apps, examples like Curiscope’s Virtuali-tee and the Merge Cube stand out as early examples of how this type of technology can fundamentally transform learning for students. Each allows the user to bring digital objects into the real world and interact with them in ways that provide unique learning opportunities. As the technology continues to proliferate and flourish with major players such as Apple and Google developing their own AR platforms, this form of technology will most certainly grow even more within the education sector in the years to come.
Authentic Instructional Practices with VR and AR
While all of this sounds quite interesting, it must also be noted that technologies like VR and AR are only as effective as the instructional methods behind them. The “wow” factor they provide is easy to see, but what will take more planning and practice for teachers is learning how to utilize these tools in ways beyond basic observation and finding authentic instructional practices to transition how students learn and interact with educational content in the classroom.
These types of technologies can make learning accessible to all learners through experiential learning opportunities that can both transcend academic deficiencies and engage the masses. VR and AR are prime examples of the future of learning that is here right now and should continue to be embraced as we will never again have students in our classrooms that do not live in an app-driven, screen-controlled, largely digitized world.
Ready to take educational technology in your classroom to the next level with virtual reality and augmented reality? Read our five-step guide to help you get started!
Christopher Pierce is a 12th year educator who teaches middle school social studies in the Brentwood Borough School District in Pittsburgh, PA. He has a strong passion for history and is an avid edtech proponent. He completed both his undergraduate and graduate work at the University of Pittsburgh, with a B.A. in History and an M. Ed in Secondary Social Studies Education. He strives daily to provide engaging, meaningful learning experiences for his eighth grade students.