Which reality is right for your K-12 classrooms?

By: Laylah Bulman, Education Strategist

Yes, that’s right – “which” reality.

Today, educators have a variety of realities from which to choose to enhance and increase learning opportunities for their students: Career and Technical education instructors routinely use Virtual Reality (VR) simulators to teach welding, auto repair, and nursing. Science teachers have marshaled around the Augmented Reality solution ZSpace to provide students enhanced interaction with the processes of the human body to better understand digestion or brain function. Teachers are taking students to the Taj Majal and Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre, all through virtual field trips, to further expose students to global learning. Educators and students are creating immersive story-telling experiences in journalism, language arts, and social science, using 360-degree video.

It’s all about perspective – and the ultimate perspective is that of the learner. Whether fully immersed in VR or mixed with face to face “grounded” reality, immersive learning technologies put students at the center of their own learning. As a result, and as multiple studies have shown, when learning complex concepts, immersive learning technologies, such as VR, increase empathy for the subject being learned, developing students who have a passion for a subject and a drive to learn more.

What options are available today, and how can teachers and schools decide which will be most effective?

Virtual Reality allows learners to be completely in another world, whether created by 360-degree video, entirely digital or a combination. Students today are familiar with some version of VR, typically exposed through gaming, emerging 360-degree journalism or retail experiences. While not interactive, 360-degree VR surrounds students with sights and sounds of other worlds, often with text prompts to direct their attention to specific facts or observations. 360 VR is highly impactful, placing students in a scene in the first-person, where they can experience a narrative and identify with the subject. The Samsung 360 camera with Samsung Gear VR is an excellent, affordable entry point for student and teacher-created VR. Simple to operate and edit, the Samsung 360 VR quickly enables classrooms to create compelling narratives or simulations, transporting students into a learning experience far beyond a standard 2D picture or video.

Interactive, fully digital VR, goes beyond 360-degree video to place students in other worlds – whether imagined explorations in outer space or inside a neuron. Students interact with avatars, make decisions to act within this virtual environment, often to create an outcome. This fully immersive digital world feels real to students and is already in use across a variety of educational experiences, the most common being virtual field trips and vocational simulations. In addition, content providers are creating applications for Social and Emotional Learning, providing safe environments for students to practice social behaviors. Samsung’s VR platform features over 8,000 videos and experiences, including interactive made-for-VR movies, covering the gamut from wildlife to sports and even VR concerts.

Along the Reality-Virtual continuum is Augmented Reality (AR), learning experiences firmly rooted on the ground but aided by virtual characters, animals, floating text, and other learning objects. AR is often referred to as a digital layer that enhances the learner’s experience. The most popular AR experience was 2016’s summer smash Pokémon Go, where players encountered layered digital worlds merged with their grounded reality. In the classroom, AR is highly successful for adding facts, information, and aids to learners working in a real environment. ZSpace, a leader in the field, combines elements of VR and AR with collaboration to teach STEM and Medical Learning. Learning environments with elementary school students also see Zspace as an effective tool, as younger students can have extended learning time without concerns about eye strain or fatigue.

Merged or Mixed Reality is another VR learning experience which combines both digital and grounded reality, in which the virtual objects acts as if they were real. Currently, in the developmental stage, Merged reality holds much promise, with learners able to collaborate with others in existing learning spaces but sharing and interacting together with virtual objects. Students could be in different physical locations but interacting digitally in the same virtual environment.

Stop and think about when you last lost yourself in learning. Surrounded by sights, sounds, people, you identified prompts for direction and synthesized information quickly. You emerged engaged and excited, ready to learn more and with the skills to do so. Immersive learning offers students learning worlds where there are no distractions and learning is purposeful and directed. With the different immersive learning technologies available for the classroom, educators have more options than ever to curate experiences that have greater emotional and intellectual impact than ever possible. These solutions are often affordable with a low-tech entry point and high impact on learning.

VR is poised to transform classrooms, with rich content, affordable technology, and proven instructional efficacy. Students are ready for VR and AR in their classrooms to expand their skills and jumpstart their passions.

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