Education with Virtual Reality
Educators cannot Miss the Potential
Annabel Astbury :
Over the next few years we will see an explosion of virtual reality in consumer entertainment and educators cannot miss the potential that it offers, especially in this period of changing and improved pedagogies.
The Horizon Report: 2016 K-12 Edition, a report which provides a technology forecast for educational institutions, suggests virtual reality (VR) will be adopted by classrooms within two to three years. Even though virtual reality has started to take off in sectors like news making, gaming and digital marketing, the education sector does not seem to have the range of great experiences that VR can offer.
The education sector is not usually an early adopter of these new technologies - and for good reason. Educators will want to ensure that it enhances and improves educational outcomes for learners. And most educators will recognise the fact that VR cannot be used in the classroom context teaching with nineteenth century pedagogical approaches. This is often the biggest problem when using such technologies in the classroom, dooming their implementation for failure with little or no educational impact.
But, while it may be a little way until we are all donning our VR headsets in the classroom or projecting holograms of ancient Mayan ruins in the school library, there is still something exciting about examining this technology and seeing the potential positive impact it could have on learning.
While there are no doubt other benefits to using this technology, I think that VR technologies will have a positive impact in the areas of inspiring wonder and curiosity, developing new creative skills and offering authentic "learn by doing" experiences.
Judging from the work that is being done in education around VR though, I feel that the most powerful learning experiences are those that foster community and collaboration, and empower the user to empathise.
In one project run by the US-based group Global Nomads, Californian high school students viewed a VR film that depicted life in war-ravaged Syria. They then connected with a class in Syria to discuss and share daily life, their own understandings of the conflicts and experiences of what it's like to be a teenager in the world. This type of well thought out program can be very powerful and one that no doubt can have a lasting impact on students, resulting in deeper learning and community and global action.
Media Literacy expert Renee Hobbs recognises that the virtual environments that require students to access, analyse, create, reflect and take action, using a variety of print, visual, sound and digital texts, tools and technologies, should be the types of environments used in the classroom. Certainly, these hallmarks can be seen in the Global Nomads program.
The success of technology, such as games and VR, in the classroom is usually due to the efforts of a pioneering cohort, who work against a strong tide that's judiciously pragmatic. And, it's usually this tide that cannot see the immediate educational potential of such content - especially when there are so few great examples available in the education market.
It is understandable then that the idea that such "entertainment" could be useful in the classroom is anathema to these educators with their prudent resistance. Perhaps this is why Google's approach to using VR in an education setting with their Google Expeditions program has had such a warm reception. Its gentle way of introducing VR into the classroom has an appealing and believable proposition of "going" somewhere where you can't take your students. It is arguable that this may not be the most innovative use of VR in an education setting but it definitely gets educators on board with the technology, and through its ease of use gets them thinking about its potential to enhance learning.
There is no doubt that virtual reality technology can conceivably enhance and improve learning, but it simply won't make the cut if the content is poorly crafted, without the delicate collaboration that's required between content makers and educators. As such, we need to provide solutions to the "solvable" problems outlined in the Horizon Report that impede technology adoption in schools by providing authentic learning experiences, rethinking the roles of teachers, and changing policy and practice so that rapidly developing and accessible technologies like VR are a part of the "usual" classroom experience in the twenty-first century, not the exception.
It will take some work and we can start now with tools and content that are available. The Pollyanna spirit in me knows we can achieve this and that this technology is an exciting tipping point for innovation in education.
(Annabel Astbury is Head of Education at the ABC).