Virtual Reality in Education is growing as one of the leading uses for the new technology as adoption grows. Where did it all begin, and where is it going? Mark Grayson takes a look.
VR made a very quiet entrance in the 1950s. It was just on the side of life’s dance floor, with not a suitor to whisk it of its feet. Jumping forward over 50 years, VR has taken off in 2016. The industry is expected to grow to a $15.9 billion (£12.7 billion) industry by 2019 (according to Citi Analyst, Kota Ezawa). As an aside, Citi also anticipates that the market for hardware, networks, software and content will reach $200 billion by 2020.
As you look around, VR has traditionally been in bed with the world of gaming, but VR is slowly turning back the covers, evolving, shifting, and ultimately it’s going to change the world in which we live. Both Huxley and Cline have written extensively about this.
As I am a glass-half-full kind of guy, I see VR as a useful tool, bringing people together from around the world, regardless of where they come from, how much money they earn, or their social status. Now, modern education, too, is poised to take advantage of this latest tech innovation.
VR has moved from being the concern of the military and aviation, to everyday common place of professional development, as industries (medical care to transport) increasingly benefit from immersive experiences.
Virtual Reality in Education
The Educational VR market is seeing steady growth, providing educational packages for both teachers and students alike. Here are the top 12 companies currently working on augmented and virtual reality in Education.
- Lecture VR is a VR app by Immersive VR Education which simulates a lecture hall in virtual reality, whilst adding special effects which can’t be utilised in a traditional classroom setting. Lectures are accompanied by images, videos, and immersive experiences which enhance the lesson.
- Unimersiv is a VR learning platform which releases educational content on a monthly basis. The content in Unimersiv’s app is more individualized and immersive, and at the moment the three educational experiences available on the app are: Explore the International Space Station, Anatomy VR, and Learn about Stonehenge in Virtual Reality.
- Google is also making waves in the space of VR education with their exciting Expeditions Pioneer Program. The purpose of the program is for Expeditions teams from Google to visit schools around the world and provide everything teachers need to take their students on a journey anywhere. The team will also assist the teachers in setting up and utilizing this technology.
- Alchemy VR is creating immersive educational experiences on an impressive scale. The experiences on Alchemy VR are like a narrative being told to the user, where they will get to see and experience a myriad of different things. One such example is exploring the Great Barrier Reef.
- Discovery has been telling stories like no one else for over 30 years; and now they are entering the modern era with their Discovery VR app. Some of your favourite content is available on the Discovery VR app, so you can experience some of your favourite Discovery shows in a whole new way.
- zSpace is unique in the space of Education in VR because of the technology they’re using. zSpace feels that VR technology should not necessarily be so antisocial and one sided as everyone putting on their own headset. zSpace has monitors which are similar to the way 3D movies work, where a group of people use glasses which are similar in feel to 3D glasses. It is these glasses which make the content come off the screen.
- Curiscope is a startup company focusing on Education in VR, and their Virtual Tee is already turning heads. The way it works is that one person wears a t-shirt while another person with a smartphone launches the app, and is able to learn about the human body in a unique way.
- Woofbert VR is focusing on bringing art to VR technology. They are looking to reshape the landscape of storytelling, and revolutionize the way we look at art and culture. WoofbertVR is a unique way to visit an art gallery, either individually or in a classroom setting, giving students the opportunity to take a field trip which they would never normally get to experience.
- Nearpod is an organisation which combines VR and AR technology with traditional lesson plans in a classroom, for a more immersive, technology-driven approach to learning. Nearpod utilizes 360 degree photos and videos in lesson plans, and also has something akin to a PowerPoint for students to use, alongside the 360 photos and videos.
- EON Reality is looking to change how teachers utilize technology in the classroom. Students and teachers can create blended learning environments with the EON Creator, which is an interactive tool that allows users to combine 3D content with videos, sound effects, notes, Powerpoint, and more.
- Schell Games is one of the largest independent game development companies in the United States; with their forte being in what they refer to as ‘transformation games’, or games that change people for the better. Ohe countless games they have developed, there is Water Bears VR, a VR puzzle game aimed at kids that promotes systems thinking and spatial recognition.
- Gamar is a company who is attempting to make museum visits more modern through the use of Augmented Reality. The way that Gamar’s content works is that they have interactive experiences and supplemental information, which can be paired with certain locations to enhance museum visits. One of the chief rules of a museum is not to touch anything, but with Gamar’s app, museum attendees will be able to point their smartphone or tablet at an exhibit at one of their paired locations and get additional information on that exhibit.
Much of these early examples virtual reality in Education have centred on the hard sciences — biology, anatomy, geology and astronomy — as the curricular focus and learning opportunities are notably enriched through interaction with dimensional objects, animals and environments.
Virtual Reality in Education Widening Scope for Curriculum
In other areas of education, many classes have used VR tools to collaboratively construct architectural models, recreations of historic or natural sites and other spatial renderings. Instructors also have used VR technology to engage students in topics related to literature, history and economics by offering a deeply immersive sense of place and time, whether historic or evolving. This global distribution of VR content and access will undoubtedly influence a pedagogical shift as these new technologies.
Despite the fact that VR is still developing, real progress has been seen in the economic scaling of the technology. The cost to the consumer of VR hardware (headsets, in particular) has steadily declined, as noted in the head-mounted displays (HMDs) commercially available today: Google Cardboard for $20 (£16) and Samsung Gear VR for $99 (£79.22) (at time of writing, Oculus Rift, a desktop VR device, is available $599 – £479.32).
Virtual Reality in Education, 3D Printing and Other Technologies for The Future of Schools
Overall, access to some type of mobile VR device is affordable for many more individual users and, in turn, many more schools. Some forward-thinking instructors are even using 3D printers to print their own customized HMDs with their technology students, a solution that dovetails with the popular maker-trend philosophy.
Educators and students alike are seeking an ever-expanding immersive landscape, where students engage with teachers and each other in transformative experiences through a wide spectrum of interactive resources. In this educational reality, VR has a definitive place of value.
Mark Grayson is the Paid Social Account Manager at TDMB. He comes from an Education background, having previously worked as Head of IT in secondary education, hence his interest in Technology in Education. He is also a gifted pianist, as well as being skilled in digital marketing.