• Jeff Madlock

Is Virtual Reality best choice for true immersion?

Virtual Reality Headsets (VR for the purposes of this article) are the latest techno gadget to start sweeping the nation. Inevitably, conversation turns to the use of VR in the classroom setting. While it certainly has its place, I have a couple of thoughts regarding its use. Now, before I get too far into this, I know that what I write here will be obsolete before long, just as any tech article becomes obsolete. But, as things stand at the time of this writing, here are some points to ponder.

My friend’s article (linked at the end of this one), focuses on several areas. Again, I am modifying these for classroom use:

  1. More life-like classroom experiences;

  2. People could experience location-based events locally;

  3. Students could experience historical events;

  4. Digital small groups

First of all, ANY technology that helps folks participate more actively is worth exploring. Right now, VR is one-way in terms of what you’ve lined out.

Second, you don’t need VR headsets to do any of those things. Devices like Double Robotics or VGo robots allow people to join locations from anywhere and to move about freely while doing so. To me, this actually gives more freedom and the potential for more “in-the-moment” experiences that a static VR headset couldn’t. The robot is mobile, able to roll on concrete, carpet and more. I have seen students participate in class, join their friends for lunch, and return to class – all the while driving the robot from place to place as they interact with their fellow students. I have seen specialists use the robot in a classroom to interact with special education students remotely – all in real time, with a real face, moving about as the student moves about. Granted, price differences may impact the implementation of remote robotics.

While the “coolness” factor of VR certainly has its place, the limitations of such devices may turn off many folks. Sure, I would venture that lots of students would happily don the gear and pick up the controllers and get to work. But, that is a static experience compared to driving a robot, holding two-way group conversations, and being immersed in the environment. In order for VR to be truly effective in the classroom, there would need to be mechanisms in place such that the remote participant could INTERACT with those around the VR setup.

Again, with something like a Double Robotics or VGo, the participant can see, hear AND TALK with the people around the robot. This is much more lifelike and interactive than simply donning a headset and looking around, listening. An interactive robotic device virtually transports the person to the remote location in a very real, authentic way.

Third, I do love the idea of VR for teaching lessons with that extra immersion of “being there” where true, two-communication is not necessarily required. Yes, interaction, but that would not be remote interpersonal interaction. At least, not so far as I see it right now. Right now, VR lessons and experiences bring to mind things like Google’s Expedition program. It’s a great program and certainly has amazing educational benefits. VR allows for exploration, experimentation, and limited interaction.

Eventually, when we can combine the two – VR with the mobility of a robot… Whoa.

This article came about as the result of a conversation with a friend of mine. He led the discussion by talking about ways VR headsets could be used in church. I am taking my side of that conversation and applying it to education.

Link to my friend’s article that spurred this conversation: https://stephencastleberry.com/2016/07/05/what-possibilities-could-digital-reality-offer-the-church/

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