Voices from the Idaho EdNews Community

Creative uses for virtual reality in the classroom

Michael Strickland

Technology has changed instruction forever. As shown in a sudden, powerful fashion by the Covid-19 pandemic, teachers can teach from home and still be “face-to-face” with their students via Zoom or Google Classroom. Another new frontier is the use of Virtual Reality (VR). It provides educators many new ways to motivate and engage their students and to assist those who may struggle in a traditional classroom. VR can be used to remove distractions and immerse students in the subject matter at hand. Even the most dispirited student can get the most out of their lessons.

Virtual Reality immerses the learner into the entire experience. Instead of just watching a documentary on whales, for example, students can experience what it would be like to be a scuba diver in the water with the whales, or even, what it would be like to be a whale itself. VR stimulates as many senses as possible, usually through the use of a headset that shows 3-D graphics of the subject matter. Other senses are often stimulated as well: touch, hearing, and sometimes even smell. Learning in this way can greatly improve and enhance the learning environment and increase the attention span of the students to the material.

VR is the future of education. Currently, the school and college sector is the fourth largest investor in VR technology. Both students and teachers are responding with enthusiasm. Also, as a general rule, the average student remembers roughly 30% of what they hear and 20% of what they see. When they experience something first-hand, what they remember jumps up dramatically, to 90%. VR provides that real-life type of experience.

Our fast-paced environment is constantly on the move and technology provides instant gratification. Because of this dynamic, along with better diagnostic tools and methods, more students than ever are diagnosed with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder. ADHD makes it very difficult, sometimes even  impossible, for a student to succeed in the traditional classroom. They are distracted very easily, cannot focus on the task at-hand, and act in an impulsive manner. ADHD also destroys a child’s self-confidence and makes it difficult for them to interact and have meaningful relationships with both peers and adults.

VR can be great for children with ADHD. It can respond instantaneously in a realistic fashion to a child’s behavior in the virtual world. The sensory stimulation can hold attention much better than a typical classroom because it puts them into a virtual world that acts like the real thing, and children’s minds respond accordingly. It allows ADHD students to try new things and receive corrective feedback in a safe yet stimulating environment. They can also practice skills that they have a difficult time achieving such as controlling their emotions and receiving delayed gratification.

When incorporating VR into today’s classrooms, there are a number of things that one must keep in mind and be able to provide:

  • VR imitates real-life situations, which may cause students to ignore their physical surroundings and amble around blindly. Because of that, plenty of room must be provided to ensure that students are not injured.

  • Students, due to the above reason, must also be well-supervised while using VR.

  • VR is not for all situations or circumstances and can be overused. It is important to determine the best times and situations to use it….possibly for just a few minutes as part of a longer lesson. Students who overuse VR sometimes develop false memories of visiting places or doing things that never actually happened.

With those precautions in place, there are many ways that teachers can use VR to enhance student learning:

  • Students can go on a virtual field trip. This can be used in a number of subjects. They can visit the ruins of ancient Rome for social studies or the landscape of Mars for science.

  • Using various apps available, students can recreate a setting of a story for English and then step into that setting.

  • Teachers can create role-playing games for students and put them in the middle of a 3-D story. That story could be fictional or have historical value.

  • A science teacher could use a virtual roller coaster to demonstrate kinetic energy to their students.

These are just a few uses of VR technology in the classroom. With a little bit of creativity, the possibilities are endless. We all have cell phones and laptops. Maps are a thing of the past. Most of us now use a GPS to get around. And with the advancement of technology emerged Virtual Reality, that allows us to visit anywhere or experience anything first-hand, without going anywhere. Using VR  in the classroom empowers teachers to personalize lessons, helps children who struggle with attention problems, and greatly enhances learning for all students.

Michael Strickland

Michael Strickland

Michael Strickland teaches at Boise State University and studies at Idaho State University.

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