Virtual Reality in K-12 Education: How Helpful Is It?

[In my work with schools I’ve begun to see an increasing use of Virtual Reality. The Montour School District uses zSpace with its elementary, middle, and high school students. This summer I helped to coordinate a Summer Institute for STEAM Innovation sponsored by the South Fayette School District. Heather Mallak, a local digital innovator, developed a workshop that focused on Augmentative and Virtual Reality. If you start with Augmentative Reality, you can keep the costs very cheap. You don’t need sophisticated technology. You can create Green Screen worlds where students visit historical buildings or travel to global destinations.Discover in this Converge magazine article some of the possibilities and resources you might want to consider.]

BY JENNIFER SNELLING / JULY 28, 2016
Photo by Norton Gusky CC BY 4.0

Photo by Norton Gusky CC BY 4.0

This article originally appeared in the Q2 issue of Converge magazine.

With school budgets tight and parents often complaining that kids spend too much time playing video games, why are educators pushing students to use a relatively little-understood, but visually powerful technology? More and more school districts and classroom teachers are finding that virtual reality can be just what they need when classes can’t afford to take a field trip across town, much less to another state or overseas. And that’s just the beginning of the possibilities that VR offers. With affordable devices such as Google Cardboard, a growing number of virtual experiences are suddenly available to students everywhere.

While data on just how widely virtual reality is used in schools is hard to come by, anecdotal evidence and the rate at which VR apps and devices for educational purposes are popping up suggest that educational VR is here to stay.

Long considered a novelty for gamers, VR is making the transition to the classroom for two key reasons: affordability and available content, according to Maureen Brown Yoder, professor of education technology at Lesley University. Inexpensive equipment, offered most notably by Google Cardboard, is helping VR with the affordability issue, while an increasing number of apps aimed at education are helping make content accessible. “VR has been around for many years, but I don’t think it was very widely used at all in education,” said Yoder. “But the real difference is that now there’s better content.”

Right now, anyone with a smartphone and a cardboard headset can experience free VR programs produced with 360-degree cameras. More sophisticated headsets are readily available from Oculus Rift, HTC Vive, Open Source VR and Samsung, but cost from $300 to $1,000 each, making them cost-prohibitive for most school districts, unless they’re donated.

In May, Facebook announced that its company, Oculus VR, the Menlo Park, Calif.-based startup behind the VR headset known as the Oculus Rift, is piloting programs with an educational component. Dubbed VR for Good, the program will donate gear to San Francisco schools and connect students with professional filmmakers to produce three- to five-minute, 360-degree videos about their community.

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