Virtual reality is a great way for students to gain experiences that they are not able to have in the real world, and to get a better understanding of content in order to enhance their education.  Virtual reality can give students practice with real-world jobs without the consequences or cost needed for the experience.  It can teach students about the ocean by giving them a close up view and a realistic depiction of what it might be like to be there.
        However, a virtual experience is not the same as a real experience, and it is important that teachers and students understand this.  While students can see and hear what the ocean looks like through virtual experience, they can not smell it, or have the salty air around them.  This is the same with dissecting a frog.  While a simulation might be cheaper and less messy, it is not as memorable for the students and the learning is not as great.  Students need to have the smell that comes with dissections, the slimy feel of the skin and tendons, and the gag reflex that threatens to go off.  That is what makes this experience memorable, not seeing what the different parts of the frog are on a monitor.  Therefore simulations might be close, but they are not the same.  
        Another flaw in virtual reality is the impact and consequences of actions.  In a simulation, if your careless construction work makes a bridge fall and kill fifty people, you shrug it off as a disappointment and don’t think about it past the next period.  In the real world, this would have a far greater impact.  I am not saying we need to teach students through putting them in real, potentially harmful situations, but it is important to understand the benefits and consequences that come with real life experiences, and I do not think virtual reality can simulate this.  
        Similarly, people need to learn how to act and react in real life, face to face contact.  Too much virtual reality can overshadow authentic communication, and students can miss out on these valuable experiences.  They can get caught up in their virtual reality, and forget that there is a real world out there as well.  We all know those people who play video games all day with their Sims characters, but have very few friends and hardly ever leave their house.  They begin to think that Sims is a reality, and they get caught up with inauthentic actions that deplete their real-world skills and social abilities.  Therefore, while virtual reality can be useful for education, it can not (and should not) take the place of real world experiences.  
       

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Comment by Sara Finney on August 6, 2012 at 10:59am

I agree.  As amazing as virtual realities are becoming, they are not a replacement for real life experiences.  They do, however, offer the chance to practice before the real thing.  We are losing our kids to virtual worlds so we need to be careful to what extent and how often we are implementing them in the classroom.

Great, thoughtful reflection.  You were able to put into words what I was thinking but could not eloquently put on paper.

Comment by Terry Smith on August 11, 2012 at 2:02pm

I agree with Sara. There is a place for virtual worlds learning in the classroom, but of course it should not be a replacement for reality. For example, I observed 4th graders in a virtual environment called Quest Atlantis (for 3 years) in which they dealt with real social values and concerns (friendship, truth, ethics, pollution, etc) while trying on new identities. In doing so, I saw high engagement, lots of shared learning and peer helping. One interesting factor in the learning was that there were many choices to make which would change the outcome of the quest. Teachers moderated and guided the learning, but that didn't seem to lessen the engagement and attraction to the activities - exercising several 21st century skills like creativity, problem solving, collaboration, critical thinking, and global awareness.

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