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For another year running, virtual reality and other so-called “immersive experiences” have been identified as the top strategic technologies influencing both K-12 and tertiary education¹.
And with the cost of equipment becoming cheaper and technical improvements becoming quicker, access to VR, AR, and MR is becoming easier and more financially achievable. But is it worth the hype?
The immersive experiences referred to in this article are VR, AR, and MR. But before we take this any further, let’s look at what differentiates the three.
VR (Virtual Reality): In this experience, a user with a headset can be figuratively transported to a foreign environment without leaving the room they’re in. With good graphics and immersive sounds, they can feel like they’re really in another world. At the present, its primary use has been in gaming.
AR (Augmented Reality): Easily confused with VR, augmented reality enhances as opposed to immerses. By using a computer or mobile device, AR can augment certain aspects of the real world to create an enriched experience.
MR (Mixed Reality): A hybrid of the two, MR enhances the real world with virtual objects, but is more believable than AR. In AR, an object appearing on your screen may look like it’s sitting on your kitchen table, but when you move your device around, the illusion is broken. With MR, the object would move in perspective and relation to the camera, making it more believable.
I’m sure we can all recall Pokémon Go, the AR game which took over schoolyards in 2017. And perhaps you know someone who uses a virtual reality headset for gaming. If you’ve ever watched a 360° video on Facebook, or used filters on Snapchat, you’ve used some of these immersive technologies in your own life.
But have you ever learned a new skill using VR?
NASA has recognised VR and AR experiences as tools for not only educating the masses about space, but also for inspiring students to recognise the fun involved in working in STEM. Their Generation Beyond program provides resources to teach children in a virtual setting, and in 2016 they encouraged students to dream bigger by partnering with Lockheed Martin to take excited students on a literal bus ride around virtual Mars.
There are countless others inspiring the next generation with immersive experiences. Thanks to London company Alchemy VR you can take a tour around the oak tree in Judi Dench’s garden, sit inside a Soyuz spacecraft, and go on a diving adventure through the Great Barrier Reef with your personal guide, David Attenborough. Or get the Unimersiv app and journey inside the human brain, explore ancient Rome, and step on board the Titanic (lifeboat not included).
Unimersiv also makes training programs for companies looking to save time and money and eliminate risk. Imagine the inexpensive ease of training an employee in using a forklift without worrying about physical dangers. You could train your employees faster, cheaper, and without risk.
The use of these technologies in education is still a nascent concept. But even with the potential of VR being slowly recognised, research shows that in 2017 there were 4 times as many VR headsets in universities than in 2016.
In Australia educational VR may be a new concept, but it’s being recognised by some leading universities as a training solution.
In 2017, midwifery students from the University of Newcastle began using immersive technology to gain real-time experience in emergency delivery room simulations.
Through the use of Gear VR headsets, students can enhance their learning with out-of-hours training at their own pace. And with 15% of Australian births requiring resuscitation, Lecturer in Midwifery Jessica Williams says that “it is imperative our students feel comfortable and confident applying their experience in a time-critical, emergency environment.”
While still in its infancy, VR is showing plenty of potential for use as an effective education asset in the coming years. Whether it’s used to inspire the next generation of space explorers, or train employees how to use an excavator in a risk-free environment, it’s apparent that the effect immersive technology is having on education will change the way we teach future generations.