Update: Virtual Reality Is Heating Up

When virtual reality first came on the scene (read 2015 blog), it was greeted with comments like, “Oh my gosh!” and “Unbelievable!” Educators in our workshops went scrambling back to their classrooms to unleash virtual reality (VR) experiences on their students, only to find that available content was, shall we say, somewhat lacking.

REVIEW: WHAT IS VIRTUAL REALITY?
For something to truly be considered a virtual reality experience, a student has to be able to don a headset and become immersed in a new active and alive environment. For example, sitting in the pilot’s seat of a Japanese military aircraft and viewing the attack on Pearl Harbor from a pilot’s perspective as the attack happens is quite a VR experience (USA Today VR). Standing in the middle of prehistoric earth as dinosaurs walk by is another good example of a virtual reality experience (DinoTrek VR).

That has all changed as more and more content providers are offering VR experiences. One we particularly like is the free USA Today VR app. Some recent content examples from this app included a VR re-enactment of the bombing of Pearl Harbor, five VR experiences on the continent of Australia, and a VR experience covering NASA’s Juno mission.

The cost and quality of VR viewers has also improved. Today, a viewer that will last a long time can be purchased on Amazon for as little as $15. These sets include head straps that allow the student to wear the headset.

Old cell phones are great for accessing VR apps and video. For example: An iPhone 5 that will no longer make phone calls still makes a powerful Internet browser and host for many apps. We continue to run USA Today VR and Aurasma on a decommissioned cell phone. Teachers might consider sending a letter home to parents asking them to donate old cell phones to the classroom.

All of this opens up opportunities to design VR student experiences that address multiple Design Qualities. A school could purchase a classroom set of five headsets for under $100. Using a station-to-station blended learning approach, a teacher could set up a VR experience as one station in a rotation of two to four connected experiences. Martha Lackey, a third grade teacher in Texas, blogs about this very activity using just ONE Google Cardboard device and one cell phone. Imagine the possibilities with four or five devices.

DESIGN QUALITY MATCHES

  • There is potential for Novelty and Variety during the first few uses.
  • Virtual reality provides opportunities to make Content and Substance engaging.
  • Used as an instructional strategy, VR activities may create engagement (Organization of Knowledge).
  • Accessing content through virtual reality can be offered as a Choice to students.
  • The connection between VR gaming and VR educational experiences may cause some students to find VR activities Authentic.

There are still some aspects of VR that need improvement. We found that cell phones often had to be removed from cases to fit into the viewer. This was slightly inconvenient but seems easily fixable.

If you haven’t yet brought virtual reality to your classroom, the timing is right to dive in and give it a try. Related content is more readily available. The cost is coming down. New learning models make it easier than ever to create engaging experiences. With well-designed activities that use the Design Qualities to leverage engagement, you can be on your way in no time. Give it a try!

 

The Engagement People

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