Late last year I had my first experience with Virtual Reality, or VR at a gaming cafe. From an entertainment perspective, VR is pretty amazing. It’s a completely immersive gaming experience unlike anything else. I have been playing video games since I was about six years old but playing a game in VR is a different and exciting experience. Instead of just controlling a character on screen, you are the character. From the experience of free floating through a field of stars in space to fighting off hordes of zombies, you feel enveloped and immersed in the game. Soon after this my husband decided to purchase an Oculus Rift and now we play at home. I have since become fascinated with other applications of VR, aside from entertainment.
Virtual Reality has expanded into many different spaces and isn’t only geared toward gamers. Some companies use travel-ready VR setups to visit elderly patients and take them on virtual trips to places they once visited in their lives. Patients with dementia and alzheimer’s, too, can be treated using VR to help jumpstart their memories. VR also has applications in the mental health world using biofeedback. Patients fitted with a heart rate monitor can be plunged into a simulated environment designed to scare them or make them uncomfortable. They can then learn how to control and reduce their heart rate in a safe, simulated environment. The uses for VR seem to be expanding rapidly everyday.
One of my favorite books, Ready Player One by Ernest Cline, is about the near-future of 2044. Society has crumbled, natural resources are depleted and most people escape into a virtual world called The Oasis using VR goggles and haptic feedback suits. Children attend school in The Oasis, people work inside of The Oasis and the real world is no longer a place where people really live. While this seems far-fetched, I wonder how improbable or unrealistic a future like this could be. Perhaps people wouldn’t live their whole lives inside of a virtual reality, but what about virtual classrooms?
Recently I have noticed a surge of articles and posts from various areas within my PLN about VR and its uses in the classroom. In one article, The Real Uses of Virtual Reality in Education, the author describes how VR is already becoming more commonplace in the classroom. VR allows students to see and experience places around the world with virtual field trips using Google Expedition and other maps. Students can also create their own content and VR can even help students with special needs learn to adapt in stressful situations. Last week students at my school took a virtual field trip to The Louvre for French class. Of course not all schools can afford a high-end computer and an Oculus Rift or HTC Vive, but with Google Cardboard for $9 and a cell phone or iPod touch many classrooms are able to adopt the technology at a lower cost.
I wonder the extent to which VR will alter the way we learn and experience the world around us. Will all school become a virtual endeavor? Will teachers meet with their students in virtual classrooms and have students from around the globe? Will we need teachers at all? It will be interesting (and a little terrifying) to see what the future hold.
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