There has been a fair amount of buzz lately around VR (Virtual Reality) in schools, with an ever-increasing number of products and applications on the market. We have been exploring a few of these options this year, so thought I would share our experiences and thoughts so far. Since 2010, when the Oculus Rift was launched, several competitors have entered the VR market, including HTC, Sony, Google and Samsung, alongside hundreds of developers of VR games and apps. With the high end, single user products, meaningful integration into the school setting might be somewhat limited. However, several companies are now tapping into the education sector by providing devices, content, and management software which enables teachers to guide the experience, and for multiple users to simultaneously interact with the content, and all this at a cost which is becoming less prohibitive to many schools.
While some educators may be skeptical about the value of using VR in schools, thoughtful planning can result in rich, engaging and deep learning experiences for students. In support of this, educator, Graeme Lawrie (2017), argues, “Sometimes it is easier to see and hear something than have it explained to you, and occasionally students just need to be taken out of a classroom environment and dropped into an immersive world.” VR can be used to enhance teaching and learning in many situations, such as:
- during the immersion or exploration stage of a research topic,
- experiencing a live performance of a play e.g. at Shakespeare’s Globe,
- inspiring and adding depth to creative writing,
- helping to develop empathy and tolerance,
- exploring details of biological or other science-based systems e.g. circulatory system, moons of Jupiter,
- visiting other classrooms around the world
Moving further up the SAMR ladder, as well as Bloom’s taxonomy, content creation is an even more exciting possibility. Brett Salakis recently posted his useful Teacher’s Guide to Virtual Reality (2017), in which he asserts that “Virtual Reality needs to shift from a platform of pure consumption to one of creation and immersive storytelling.” Creating VR experiences, whether it be 360º images/videos with embedded content and annotations, or entirely new apps or games, requires a deep level of understanding of the topic/process/issue, UX principles, and computational thinking skills. Creating VR content which can actually be experienced by a range of audiences, including their peers, also makes the task far more meaningful and relevant for students.
How to add and consume content is fairly straightforward, and varies slightly depending on headset, regarding content availability, uploading process, and distribution process. For me, the most appealing products for teaching and learning are those which are centrally managed, enabling teachers to focus and guide students’ experiences, and meaning that content is quickly and easy delivered to students without students needing to find and upload content individually (see “What?” below for examples).
Creating content is becoming increasingly accessible and affordable (for teachers as well as students), resulting in increased opportunities for integration across the curriculum. Some current software for this purpose includes:
- InstaVR – Free (basic version) – Quickly and easily create professional interactive VR apps/tours using your own 360º images or video footage; for full Pro version, 10+ educational licenses = US$119/license/month or $955/license/year (students can share licences)
- RoundMe – Free (basic version) – Upload and annotate 360º images to create a “tour” – add text, images or links; individual upgrades available per tour
- SeekBeak – Free (basic version) – Upload your own 360º images or video (or free from online) to create a “snap” – add all sorts of content at chosen points e.g. documents, audio, video, links etc…; upgrade options from US$11.90/month
- iMovie – Free – use iMovie to add titles etc… to your own 360º image or video footage
- Unity3D – Use the Unity programming language (advanced users) to create fully interactive VR apps and games (professional standard)
High end, single user, non-managed headsets include the Oculus Rift, HTC Vive, Sony Playstation VR and Samsung Gear. These often have a higher level of interaction within the physical space, but often require a dedicated space or room for a single user at a time. At the other end of the spectrum are simple headsets, such as Google Cardboard, which are essentially a basic viewer in which a device needs to be attached (e.g. iPhone). Headsets which have been more specifically designed for educational usage include devices below. They are all wireless and all retail for around the AU$500 range per individual device:
- ClassVR – These are purchased in sets of 8, with a charging/storage box; additional $800 per year for subscription to the online portal (per school, regardless of number of total devices); the portal is logged into by the teacher to access educational content (currently over 500 images/video and increasing regularly) and lesson plans to distribute to students separately or as part of a playlist; portal soon to include public space, for viewing and sharing between any ClassVR schools; student images/videos/content can be uploaded to the portal for distribution; integrates with CoSpaces VR creation software (see “How” above); built-in camera allows reading of QR codes + AR; students never need to sign in; own headphones can be used; teachers see where all students are looking, and can direct students towards a specific point in image/video.
- Google Expeditions Kit – These are managed in a similar way to ClassVR, without the annual subscription. Requested apps (many more options in addition to Google Expeditions) are preloaded onto the devices prior to delivery. The kit comes with its own router, teacher tablet, student devices (like iPods) and student goggles to put them in. They come in a large storage/charging box on wheels.
- Nuuq-VR – These devices are an all-in-one headset with individual WiFi connection; they are not centrally managed – this means that all apps and content need to added individually to each device, and teachers do not know what students are viewing and cannot easily direct students to desired experiences; a Google Play account is required to download content; online, streamed content is easy to access directly; controlled by buttons on headset or separate controller
In terms of content, there is a huge range out there, and this is growing all the time. Some of the more popular apps for education are:
Where to from here?
While I have no doubt that VR in the classroom can enhance and transform learning experiences, it is worth spending some time exploring all the ins and outs of the different devices, content and software, as well as the compatibility between them, to ensure they provide intended outcomes, and suit your school’s particular situation. This is a fast-moving space, so please comment below on your own experiences and thoughts, including other devices or software that I have not included.
Lawrie, G. (2017, January 23). How our school is using virtual reality to prepare pupils for a future dominated by technology. The Telegraph [London]. Retrieved from http://www.telegraph.co.uk/education/2017/01/23/school-using-virtual-reality-prepare-pupils-future-dominated/
Salakis, B. (2017, November 6). A teacher’s guide to virtual reality. Education Technology Solutions. Retrieved from https://www.educationtechnologysolutions.com.au/2017/11/teachers-guide-virtual-reality/