Blogging about Virtual Reality (VR)
After investigating virtual reality environments, simulations, and tours and conducting research on what the experts have to say about virtual reality in education, I have to say that I have changed my mind about the use, effectiveness, and purpose of VR in education.
I admit I was a skeptic when considering how to use virtual reality in the classroom because in my limited experience, these were “games” students played to pass the time and keep themselves entertained. I pictured the Sims games my middle school students coveted in the late 90s and the “dark room” cloaked stories and figurines that came to life on paper and pencil in Dungeons and Dragons. I also resisted virtual reality environments because of online safety concerns and the potential for predators to prey on young people. (I’m still on the fence on that one, but I will come back to that later.) Since my personal experiences were so limited, it was illuminating to see what educators, programmers, artists, and designers have done to integrate simulations, tours, and specific environments into students’ worlds.
The first flash of brilliance came via an elementary “game” offered by PBSLearningMedia called CyberChase, where I learned how basic math skills are reinforced for emerging and struggling learners. Although the math was simple enough to complete, I found the hand-eye coordination a bit of a challenge. Knowing how small, nimble fingers can accomplish most tasks, I can see how navigation for younger players might be easier. Cyberchase gives young students opportunities to practice and reinforce their math skills all while using critical thinking skills. The positive feedback from the characters in the game made me want to continue playing beyond my allotted time.
Edheads.org was another site that pulled me in quickly because the content and organization of the environment were applicable to real world scenarios and provided authentic learning situations. Although the avatars are somewhat robotic, the content they present is timely and important; the activities are current career-related and This site gave me some great ideas about how students can utilize a virtual reality environment game to improve math, critical thinking, and reading/writing skills, like predictions, details, evidence, conclusions, and generating/testing a hypothesis. I especially appreciated pages with interviews of real people who hold the positions/careers portrayed in the scenarios. This game gave me additional comfort in using virtual reality environments with my English classes.
I’m not a complete convert yet because I still see online safety as a very real concern for younger high school students. (In fact, a few sites made me uncomfortable as a parent and teacher; I am not willing to compromise my students’ safety for a tech tool.) I can, however, see the value and effectiveness virtual reality sites, applications, and simulations bring to students in the name of convenience, cost, and curriculum. The secret, I think and have learned, is to strike a balance between what happens in a traditional classroom with virtual reality instruction to truly see the positive impact on education.
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