Learning has never been so readily available. New apps, companies and technologies are being developed in order to create accessible education with a diverse portfolio of topics. Some of them even automated. –Culturewaves Q32015 Report

After watching and envying the marvels of science fiction as a child, I can finally say, “The future is here,” and it has come faster than anyone imagined.

We are now at a point where virtual reality can effectively meet many educational needs. Through the decades, children and adults have gravitated to video games for entertainment. Integrating virtual and augmented reality into education could allow students to become more interested and involved in their studies.

Generation Y students find school boring. Textbook reading, repetitive memorization and lectures can only go so far with today’s tech-savvy youth. CD-ROM-based education that merely transfers information from a book to a computer is no longer impressive. Moving forward, technology will take more to engage young students.

We are in an age of rapid computer integration in schools. And the ultimate technology looms on the horizon: the age of virtual reality in the classroom.

The idea of virtual reality as an educational tool conjures up visions of futuristic, Jetsons-like scenarios in which students explore their schoolwork immersed in digital worlds, gaining a deeper understanding of their subjects. Imagine a Spanish class visiting the ancient Mayan Chacchoben ruins in Costa Maya, or a physics class holding experiments in a simulated virtual reality lab where students control the properties of objects and observe them from any angle. In another part of the school, a social studies class could use virtual reality to travel back in time to 1863 to watch a virtual Abraham Lincoln issue his Emancipation Proclamation. I envision educators taking the concept a step further by setting up virtual classrooms in off-site locations, allowing students to interact with augmented versions of teachers and classmates from the comfort of their homes.

Virtual reality is increasingly accessible for everyday consumers. Samsung Gear VR recently dropped its price to $99, and VR apps from Facebook, Netflix and others keep emerging. Plans are in the works for universities to use HoloLens, a holographic device from Microsoft, for educational purposes. And companies like ASUS are gearing up to bring a more budget-friendly version of HoloLens to consumers in 2016.

Perhaps some caution is in order since virtual and augmented reality are in their infancy stage. We may just be starting to learn the full effects of continuous VR usage. Some researchers question whether long-term use of virtual reality might cause permanent neurological changes, especially in children, whose developing brains are more easily influenced than those of adults. Studies suggest that chronic exposure to simulated ideas, moods and images could alter perceptions of the real world. This could hardwire the brain with false impressions of how the world should look, how fast it moves and how a person should feel while living in it. Of course, researchers can only speculate about the effects of a future virtual world. It may be too early to tell whether long-term exposure to VR will produce negative side effects.

If we put aside caution and adopt an optimistic view of Moore’s Law, then we truly are in an exciting time for virtual and augmented reality; technology is just going to get better, safer and more affordable. Perhaps we’re approaching a time when even Elroy Jetson would be jealous.

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