Classrooms are forever evolving. First, with the addition of the abacus and the magic lantern, and later with the use of calculators and personal computers. Since the start of the 21st century, the IT evolution has picked up its pace. Many schools around the globe provide students with a tablet for 1:1 everyday use. The latest educational trend is the introduction of augmented (AR) and virtual reality (VR) to the classroom. While there are thousands of proponents of mixed reality devices use in class, some researchers are still in doubt. So let’s take a closer look at the potential of AR and VR for education to catch up with this trend.
The bright prospects for AR and VR in education
According to Digi Capital’s report, by 2023, AR will conquer 3.5 billion devices and turn into an industry with a revenue of $85 to $90 billion. The VR is expected to develop at a slower pace, with up to 60 million devices and $15 billion in revenue within the same timeframe. It’s no wonder major players have already made their moves towards the expansion of their services. Leading the charge, Snapchat and Facebook have recently introduced AR and VR features.
Even the governments around the world realize the potential for these technologies in education and training. In the last few years several countries have introduced AR and VR initiatives:
- The U.S. Department of Education organized a two-year long EdSim Challenge that has recently announced a winner – Osso VR. It’s a training platform that allows doctors and other medical professionals to gain hands-on experience in cutting-edge techniques. The Osso VR developers enjoyed the grand prize of $430,000, while four other finalists received $50,000 each and other prizes from the leaders of the VR market.
- Over 170 of Chinese research institutions and companies have joined in the efforts to increase the pace of AR/VR development and formed the Industry of Virtual Reality Alliance (IVRA). Local initiatives, like China VR Research Institute, are getting sufficient investments for the research and development of a mixed reality ecosystem.
- The French Ministry of National Education included AR into the middle school curriculum to encourage the development of problem-solving skills through technology. Students get to identify the problem, come up with a solution and design it using AR tools.
- In UAE, 17 schools have joined a pilot project and incorporated VR into their curriculum. Students enjoy virtual expeditions to the environments they would never see otherwise because they are too dangerous for young explorers. The Ministry of Education plans to introduce VR to a higher number of schools shortly.
- Despite the recent government crisis, South Korea plans to invest millions of dollars in the VR/AR industry within the next few years. The Korean Virtual Reality – Augmented Reality Complex (KoVAC) emerged in Seoul. The complex will provide resources for many fields willing to incorporate VR, including education.
The advantages and disadvantages of AR/VR in class
Some consider virtual reality a trendy gaming industry invention, but its practical uses in education are astounding. Here is a quick overview of the possibilities mixed reality provides for educators:
- Visualization of concepts that are otherwise impossible to produce. Teachers no longer have to struggle with two-dimensional boards to illustrate three-dimensional structures. And better visualizations leads to better understanding and improves knowledge retention rate.
- The increase in student interest and engagement. While VR and AR technologies are still new, students are tempted to use them more, even if it’s for learning something new. Besides, reliving a mixed reality experience is more fun than reading a boring old book.
- Motivation through interest. While students still struggle with procrastination due to painful and seemingly unnecessary assignments, VR and AR provide an exciting way to make them interested in learning and becoming successful professionals.
- The in-depth understanding of the complicated material. In many fields, the educators have already incorporated VR into college and university curriculum to provide better instruction for engineers, doctors, and even editors.
It’s still the early days of AR/VR; however, experts are anxious about the possible backlash of the adoption of these technologies in school. They point out several threats:
- The deterioration of human interaction. VR isolates the user within a virtual world, which often precludes personal interactions that are an integral part of a traditional learning process. Children used to VR since the elementary school can grow to be asocial adults.
- The VR addiction. Smartphone and Internet addiction have spread in a mere decade, and mixed reality has a potential to be even more addictive. If the virtual world is more exciting and forgiving, escapism can turn into a significant trend.
- The hardware and software deficiencies. While the quality of virtual reality content leaves a lot to be desired, hardware functionality issues can halt the educational process altogether. Neither teachers nor students can reliably expect the VR headsets to work seamlessly.
- The extreme upfront investments. While AR can be accessed through any portable device with a camera, VR headsets are expensive. Outfitting every student in the classroom with a person headset can be a drain on the school’s budget. Privileged few will have access to the technology in class, causing the rift of inequality to grow.
- The limited amount of content. There are tools allowing instructors and students to create AR experiences in class and at home. High-quality VR experiences are few and far between, as they require more time and money to develop.
The VR dangers for young children
Major VR headsets manufacturers set the age limit at 13 years. Some, like PlayStation, recommend the users to be at least 12 years old. Others, including Google and HTC, do not set an age limit, but mention that headsets are not designed for children and should only be used under supervision.
Still, the researchers are concerned about the potential health risks for young children. The dangers are both physical and psychological:
- The proximity of VR screens can inhibit the development of the growing eye and cause nearsightedness and myopia. The extensive use of other devices adds to the problem. And though manufacturers suggest users limit the duration of VR sessions to 30 minutes with 15-minute breaks in-between, young children should not be allowed to use headsets for more than 5 to 10 minutes at a time.
- VR affects the brain-eye connection. Using headsets tricks the brain, much like 3D movies, however, movie theaters don’t provide the same level of full-body immersion. While the scientists have no idea how powerful the impact of VR can turn out to be, they are certain, the use of headsets can induce headaches and nausea. It means that VR users, kids, in particular, can suffer motion sickness while staying still.
- The biggest problem of using VR in elementary and middle school is the need of constant adult supervision. Children might have trouble communicating their discomfort, especially if there is only one teacher in a class of 15 to 20 kids. And prolonged exposure to the harmful effects of VR can cause severe and abrupt onset damage to the developing organism.
- Another rarely addressed issue is children’s inability to tell reality from fantasy. VR experience provides full immersion, as young children can often confuse it with real life. Violent or scary content can be especially harmful, as kids can’t understand the difference between a virtual spider and a real one. For this reason, VR content for children should be screened to prevent harmful effects on their psyche.
While VR might not be the best solution for elementary or middle school, high schools, colleges, and universities could dramatically increase the quality of education, with the bonus of skyrocketing student interest and engagement. However, the progress of VR is inhibited by the high price of its adoption into the curriculum, thus providing abundant possibilities for AR development. Both IT experts and governments officials around the globe recognize this trend and are willing to invest millions of dollars to receive billions in return in a couple of years.
The original article ‘AR/VR potential in class and beyond’ was published at FreshCodeIT.