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VR: from imagination to (virtual) reality

Technology is a hot topic in pedagogy, with the world of virtual reality (VR) capturing educational minds and firing imaginations and discussions.

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Technology is a hot topic in pedagogy, with the world of virtual reality (VR) capturing educational minds and firing imaginations and discussions.

In just a short space of time, teachers all over the world have started to grasp with both hands the potential of this new way of immersing students into a topic. But in an industry brimming with technological advancements, amongst all the Interactive Whiteboards, tablets and flat panels, what is it that makes VR stand out?

VR experiences in the modern classroom

Today, VR and augmented reality (AR) are science fact; creating multi-sensory, immersive experiences with the potential to change the world of learning forever.

VR offers teachers a way to transport students from inside the walls of their school and engage them in learning like never before. A geography teacher can take a trip to Mount Everest, an English teacher can visit the sites of Shakespearean literature, a history teacher could take a journey back in time to Nazi Germany – in reality, the possibilities are virtually endless.

“{With VR} Kids can go on trips/experiences around the world in a single lesson. IT has a massive impact on arts, and humanities”.
Promoted Teacher, Cyprus, BFPO School The State of Technology in Education Report, 2016

But it’s not just about creating an experience; VR also helps pupils to understand complex subjects and theories, thus enriching and complementing current teaching methods. For example, as a science teacher VR is particularly useful. Many topics across the sciences can only be conceptualised, and not even the very best presentation does justice to the wonders of space. However, with VR, as well as a tour of the international space station, students could investigate the effects on radioactive materials during chemistry (without the health risks!), sit in on a lecture from Einstein during physics, and follow the path of food through the digestive system in biology.

From the classroom to the workplace

In the business world, many companies (notably Google) are already getting on board with the educational benefits of VR. And it’s just not tech enterprises that are catching on to the enormous potential of this growing industry; only this month, L’Oreal launched a VR hair education salon for its stylists.

With new technologies set to have a profound impact on the way many businesses address challenges, the potential of VR is just beginning to be understood. So, only by integrating 21st Century technology into the classroom, and making it a core part of the learning experience, can educators hope to prepare pupils for long-term career success.

Unfortunately, however, there has yet to be any real pedagogical shift in how teachers use VR in an educational setting.

Almost 80% of educators have access to Virtual Reality (VR) devices, but these are regularly used by only 6.87% of teachers.
The State of Technology in Education Report, 2016

With VR offering a new way to guide students through complex topics, while providing real tangible engagement in class, it’s vital that digital champions within schools understand and promote the educational potential of VR and AR if we are to deliver teaching experiences that meet the needs of modern learners. Not to mention employees that meet the needs of modern employers.

This blog was written by Matt Curran, currently a post-primary student teacher studying at Maynooth University. Matt is a passionate supporter of the use of technology in education. To follow Matt on Twitter go to: @MattCurran7

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