Saturday, September 3, 2016

Virtual Reality in Education

Apart from artificially intelligent assistants, I think virtual reality technologies (and the related technologies of augmented reality) are one of the next big things in education. Not as in "flavour of the week", but rather things that can make a significant impact on learning and engagement. This post will just scratch the surface, and hopefully spark some exploration.

You may have heard of, or used, virtual reality (VR) headsets that are based on mobile devices, such as Cardboard, Gear VR, or innumerable other headsets with similar designs. There are even specifically educational developments for these, such as Google Expeditions.

However I'm even more excited about more immersive and interactive VR experiences that can be had with hardware designed for video games. Of course they're somewhat more expensive, but you may be able to justify it based on the fact that the computers that run them can also be used for other tasks such as media production. Or if your school has a video game club or team, there are some VR hardware options coming out for consoles this year, but many of the education-applicable software and simulations won't be available for them.

At this point the two main options for computer-based VR are Vive and Rift. Both are in the neighbourhood of $1000, plus you need a decent gaming computer (which has gotten cheaper recently). While the Rift is, for now, primarily designed for sitting experiences, you'll likely want some space for room-scale experiences.

Okay, on to some educational applications.

Similar to mobile-based headsets, students will be able to view and sometimes interact with more and more 3D and 360 content that is being developed. More than just virtual field trips, this will allow students to experience things that are inaccessible or impossible in physical reality.

If you teach art or 3D design, check out Tilt Brush. It's somewhere between painting and sculpting. When I first used a pressure-sensitive stylus I was inspired to become a better artist, Tilt Brush took that feeling one step farther.

In grade six science we study flight, there are a number of interesting flight simulators available such as Fly Inside, Digital Combat Simulator, and War Thunder. Which reminds me, I need to check out DRL FPV simulator for virtual drone racing.

There are also a number of therapeutic applications of VR being developed. I'm interested to see if and how we can implement some of these in education.

And we continue to see interactive simulations being developed for consumers or professionals that can be implemented in, or adapted to, learning in school. But of course the biggest potential comes from empowering students to craft their own virtual reality experiences.