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Why Virtual and Augmented Reality Technologies Have Great Classroom Potential

By Brian P. Gatens June 13, 2016

Virtual reality and augmented reality are two fascinating technologies that have incredible potential in the classroom.

While the day-to-day use of these technologies in schools is still years away, more and more developers, companies and entrepreneurs are going to see the possibilities and eventually scale them into the classroom experience. It‘s not a matter of if, but a matter of when.

Virtual reality

Virtual reality could come to have a huge influence in the classroom.There’s a lot of buzz in schools about the use of virtual reality (VR) headsets and earbuds in the classroom. The VR industry is in its infancy now, but the potential is vast.

Facebook‘s Oculus Rift and Samsung‘s slate of VR products let users see, hear and experience different times and places. Imagine being immersed in the signing of the Declaration of Independence, standing alongside Martin Luther King Jr. during his “I Have a Dream“ speech or following Einstein around his office and classroom.

VR can do that. As companies begin to see the size of the education audience, we can expect to see broader and more far-reaching applications. Two interesting projects would be VRSE‘s short film that brings the user into the life of a refugee and Zspace‘s VR learning platform, which allows the user to see, handle, and explore the human heart and do other science experiments.

It’s important to note that the technologies (heavy headsets and pens to grab items) are going to be eventually replaced by easier-to-use and less-expensive options.

Imagine being able to bring your students anywhere at any time. And don‘t just think about big events. Eventually your students can see the floor of a Ford factory in the 1950s, a Native American settlement in the 19th century and other nations before they became more highly developed. Think of VR as a time-travel machine.

Augmented reality

A cousin to virtual reality, augmented reality (AR) uses technology to provide an overlay of information on things people are seeing.

With AR, technology can recognize a picture of somebody’s face, and feed in the person’s name and other biographical data. Research findings and other information can be made visible to people during collaborative project conferences.

Options include helping students easily find classmates with similar experiences to collaborate with, visiting off-campus sites such as museums and landmarks, and then having exhibit and historical information appear automatically for the user. What’s great about AR is that the user isn’t isolated from other users. Rather, they mix actual sights and information with virtual items.

A company leading the way in this field, with educational possibilities in the future, is The Void. Right now their applications are commercial, but the same technology can be applied to the classroom.

Keeping our perspective on classroom technology

VR, AR and all other educational technologies have to be approached with a mix of enthusiasm and caution. This is even more important today as technology gets cheaper and easier to use — making it more tempting to adopt it more quickly than ever before.

Like many industries, schools are guilty of chasing one technology “solution” after another. From using filmstrips in the classroom to introducing classroom computers and 1:1 laptops, schools have a habit of latching onto fads in search of educational silver bullets.

In reality (virtual and otherwise), technology is nothing more than a tool whose quality is decided by the teacher. Struggling teachers use technology aimlessly or make it a tool to keep kids busy or help pass the time. Quality teachers, however, know how to “right-size” technology usage and make it a gateway to greater student learning.

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