How Virtual Reality Could Change the Way Students Experience Education

[As I discover the power of AR/VR activities, I’m more convinced than ever that these technologies will make a major difference in our world in the coming years. Here’s an EdTech article that outlines the potential and limitations of what the authors call “micro-experiences.” Here in Pittsburgh I’ve been lucky to see the power of the technologies at the Virtual Immersion Lab at Montour High School and recently at the Three Rivers Educational Technology Conference.]

Photo by Norton Gusky CC BY 4.

Photo by Norton Gusky CC BY 4.

The headlines for Pokémon GO were initially shocking, but by now they’re familiar: as many as 21 million active daily users, 700,000 downloads per day, $5.7 million in-app purchases per day, $200 million earned as of August. Analysts anticipate the game will garner several billion dollars in ad revenue over the next year. By almost any measure, Pokémon GO is huge.

The technologies behind the game, augmented and virtual reality (AVR), are huge too. Many financial analysts expect the technology to generate $150 billion over the next three years, outpacing even smartphones with unprecedented growth, much of it in entertainment. But AVR is not only about entertainment. In August 2015, Teegan Lexcen was born in Florida with only half a heart and needed surgery. With current cardiac imaging software insufficient to assist with such a delicate operation on an infant, surgeons at Nicklaus Children’s Hospital in Miami turned to 3D imaging software and a $20 Google Cardboard VR set. They used a cellphone to peer into the baby’s heart, saw exactly how to improve her situation and performed the successful surgery in December 2015.

“I could see the whole heart. I could see the chest wall,” Dr. Redmond Burke told Today. “I could see all the things I was worried about in creating an operation.”

VR’s applications are impacting almost every aspect of our lives. Caregivers are using VR to treat dementia, helping patients to regain memories and enriching elderly lives in other ways. Churches are using VR to help shut-ins connect with social groups. VR is letting people virtually scale Mount Everest, tour museums and attend concerts, athletic events and Broadway. VR has been used to solve crimes and influence juries. Training exercises for pilots, soldiers, astronauts, teen drivers, and factory and construction workers utilize VR to permit training without unnecessary risk. The New York Times and other media have released special VR news stories. Google notes that global searches for the term “VR” are up 400 percent since last year.

In many of the ways that VR will enhance other human experiences, so too will VR enhance education. By making remarkable experiences available to students, this new era of affordable VR technology can transform education.

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