Virtual Reality, Simulations, Video Games, all of these types of digital learning can change education permanently, and for the better. I’ve been gung-ho about virtual reality’s place in the classroom for a long time, so it was beneficial for me to consider the arguments that some have made against their integration. These have mostly been the same arguments people have made throughout the years against video gaming in general: children struggle with separating the virtual world from the real one, they use it as an “escape” too often, they learn inappropriate or unrealistic views of the world, etc. There is certainly validity to these arguments, but they should not be used to prove virtual reality has no place in the classroom, far from it. These arguments are just the beginning of a learning opportunity. Teachers should discuss with their students these points and hold conversations of how to differentiate between the two “worlds” and how to take advantage of virtual reality, instead of using it simply as an escape.
Moving past those arguments, however, there is one that needs to be addressed and studied further. Some researchers have found that virtual reality or video games can affect the way a child perceives the world. Not in the sense of differentiating between what’s real and what isn’t, but in the way the brain processes images and words. Some studies have shown that children begin to view images moving up and down, like a computer screen, or images begin to move too quickly and unnaturally like in a video game, when they use virtual reality too often, (“Which world is real?”). While this issue requires much more research, it should be taken seriously. But teachers should also know how to differentiate their instruction and not rely too much on virtual reality as a teaching strategy, just like any other activity in their classroom.
Now, consider the advantages from using virtual reality in the classroom. Teach your students about the Black Plague of Medieval Europe -- the World History teacher is already excited. Talk to your students about the incredible devastation of the plague, the way it completely changed European society, the way it promoted the Age of Exploration and the finding of new worlds. Now have your students read some gruesomely, detailed texts on the subject, as well. Wait, half of the students are losing interesting -- on the Bubonic Plague?! The reality is, students need to interact with the subject in order to be engaged, challenged, and develop their long-term knowledge of the topic. Virtual reality provides that opportunity. There are programs out there (see below for some links) that give students the chance to “walk” around a Medieval European village that has been devastated by the Plague and ask residents questions. There are also programs that allow students to explore the planets in our solar system or reconstruct the pyramids of Giza. Not only are we allowing students to be a part of the learning, we are challenging them in ways that we never could before, and they are enjoying the challenge! Simply put, if we have the means to provide this type of education to our students, we cannot pass up the opportunity. Higher-level thinking and long-term understanding is right there for our students, let’s take advantage of it.
Virtual Reality Programs
Miamiopia - Elementary age students can create an avatar and play interactive games and learning activities for every content area. It’s a very secure site, as well.
Tropic Mind - Similar to Miamiopia, designed for elementary students. This website also provides games and learning activities in every subject. Allows students to interact with others throughout the world, but still provides identity security.
Immersive VR Education - As addressed above, this virtual reality program contains amazingly detailed, interactive presentations on several events, such as the Apollo 11 mission and the Black Plague. It is new and still creating many of its presentations and is expensive, but definitely worth checking out.
Minecrift - Combining the incredibly popular video game, Minecraft, with the virtual reality goggles known as Oculus Rift, this program allows students to recreate historical worlds and landmarks and view them in a detailed 3D environment. Great for middle school students to create fantastic digital products.
OpenSim - One of the most advanced virtual reality creation tools, this open source (free!) program allows students to create entire digital worlds and share them with others. It’s challenging, with a steep learning curve, but is a great opportunity for students to become contributors in the relentlessly growing Internet-based 21st Century world.
Which world is real? The future of virtual reality, (2015). Science Clarified. Retrieved [2 June 2015] from http://www.scienceclarified.com/scitech/Virtual-Reality/Which-World-Is-Real-The-Future-of-Virtual-Reality.html