By: Will Fallona
Is virtual reality the next step to improving our classrooms? With the increasing development of XR (extended reality) and more specifically VR (virtual reality), products such as the Meta Quest headsets or the HTC Vive XR Elite headset could become a useful tool used in classrooms to expand learning opportunities for students. The extended reality they can create will provide both students and teachers with new tools to examine or explore things in a way that hasn’t been possible before. I believe that virtual reality is the next addition to our schools because of the new learning opportunities it creates, the interest and motivation it can bring to learning, and the efficient stress-relieving environment it can provide.
One of the driving factors supporting virtual reality’s entry into schools is the new learning opportunities and experiences it creates. With virtual reality, students are able to travel to places to learn in environments that their school otherwise could not provide, and the study, “Impact of virtual reality use on the teaching and learning of vectors” by Esmeralda Campos et al. shows just that. Campos’s study consisted of trials in which the experimental group of students was provided with virtual reality headsets to immerse themselves into simulations, and a control group without the virtual reality. The experimental groups with virtual reality access had continually outperformed the control group. Thus proving the immersive simulations of complex physics ideas that virtual reality provided improved the understanding of the lesson; and according to students increased interest and motivation in the subject. As a former physics student myself, I can certainly say some concepts that we simply cannot recreate in the classroom were very hard to wrap my head around while trying to picture all of the moving parts with a 2D sketch. I can relate to this and say an interactive environment or even just a 3-dimensional image would have been very useful and effective when learning something like the structure of electromagnetic fields or the different types of forces. The use of these tools has also become a new step for training in hospitals and medical schools in recent years, and experiences like Osso VR have certainly impressed many, including surgeons themselves.
On top of learning physics concepts, the headsets have also provided a way for children in Topeka Elementary to “take field trips across the world”.
The benefits of this immersive tool apply to many classes. Whether its use is needed for viewing 3-dimensional simulations, traveling to places without leaving your seat, or understanding unobtainable objects.
In addition to the new learning opportunities virtual reality provides, it also has the capability to increase interest and motivation for students. The other day my writing class took a field trip to Studio X to explore the virtual world on the Meta Quest headsets. I can say even as an 18-year-old old I was very excited to immerse myself into the virtual world for a class. My interest was struck again by the many programs Studio X provides, and just as Campos describes in her article, the immersion and hands-on feel of virtual reality can give you a perspective like never before. I enjoyed Virginia Tech’s “Trolly Problem” experiment and spent my time as a rail switch operator facing moral decisions on whose lives to save. It was an awesome experiment and I was happy to contribute to Virginia Tech’s research data. If the experiment had just been questions on a sheet of paper, I can certainly say it would not have been close to as appetizing as the hands-on world they created in virtual reality. It’s important to keep students motivated, especially at the younger ages, and If virtual reality is a way of keeping them motivated and developing interest then it is very important that schools take advantage of that to help excite and inspire the motivation for learning in younger students.
On top of the interesting academic benefits virtual reality provides, it is also capable of creating a space where students can step away from the classroom and relax. The ability virtual reality has to immerse students into a new learning environment can just as well take them to a calming stress-free world. In Studio X with maybe 15-20 other people, I felt so isolated I completely forgot about my surroundings even with 30 people in the same room as me. It was such a nice break from the stresses of packed school and game day, and I was happy I had the chance to try it out in that setting. I know once homework and social stresses begin to take over students’ lives a virtual escape could be just what one needs to clear their mind and relax. This experience was introduced to me last spring when I was exposed to the soothing effects of the Recharge Room. While volunteering to sort donated clothes, I had the chance to check out a “Recharge Room”, which was a physical place at the compound of the Dartmouth graduates leading the donations. The Recharge Room was a well-kept-wooden shed full of greenery with a very casual setup that felt very natural and outdoorsy. Inside was a big screen, cool air, natural smells, and the sound and projection of some real meadow, forest, or beach for just 10 minutes. It was a way of reducing stress and relaxing students or anyone in a short time. I loved the Recharge Room and I believe virtual reality could be a smaller, more affordable, and efficient way to give students the same stress-relieving effects.
While these headsets offer many educational and social benefits for students and teachers, there are notable concerns to consider as well; these being the distractions, frustrations, and discomfort the devices have the potential to cause. According to “One week working in the metaverse led to 19% more anxiety and 16% less productivity”, an article on Yahoo finance by Tristan Bove, full-time use of the headsets can actually increase anxiety and decrease productivity as presented in the title. Though later in the article survey results showed that 71% of executives believe that the metaverse will have a positive impact on their company. However, it is clear that virtual reality will not be productive as the primary platform for work. This concept can easily be translated to schools as similar hours and tasks occur. Therefore it would be unhealthy for students to spend their days primarily on virtual reality. On top of this, the headset’s immersive experiences may become a distraction for younger students, whether that is due to motion sickness or addiction to the virtual world.
However, as I mentioned above, having access to the headsets for part-time use or specifically for certain areas of study would certainly be beneficial because of the extended resources it provides. On top of that, just like me, with time and use especially for younger students, it won’t be hard to overcome the distractions or discomfort the headsets may bring. I know in Studio X, many of my classmates felt motion sickness and discomfort with the headset or with the virtual world. These were all symptoms I experienced my first few times on my friend’s old headset, but after only a couple of times using his the only issue I had was that I couldn’t take one of the virtual lightsabers home with me. Now even with some of the frustrations and discomforts that come with the headsets, they are only present for new users adjusting to the experience, and these headsets are getting better every day. All factors considered, virtual reality in classrooms has the ability to extend students’ learning opportunities, increase interest and motivation in schools, and give students a quick and easy way to relieve stress. I believe with Meta, HTC, and other determined virtual reality brands, in the near future virtual reality could have an extremely positive impact on the education of all students.
“One Week Working in the Metaverse Led to 19% More Anxiety and 16% Less Productivity, New Study Finds.” Yahoo Finance, 21 June 2022, https://finance.yahoo.com/news/one-week-working-metaverse-led-164453743.html.
Campos, Esmeralda, et al. “Impact of Virtual Reality Use on the Teaching and Learning of Vectors.” Frontiers in Education, vol. 7, 2022, https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/feduc.2022.965640.