By Fatma Katr
In a modern world with diverse platforms for innovations and solutions, technology is shaping the future of education. It continues to manifest new tools such as virtual reality (VR) in a student’s learning experience. The number of VR educational users is expected to increase to around 15 million by 2025, according to a report about virtual and augmented reality published by Goldman Sachs.
While 18% of U.S. higher education institutions have fully deployed VR according to a survey reported by EdTech, around 60% of all institutions are expected to champion VR in creating immersive learning experiences by 2021. The expected increase is derived from the demand to use it in institutions amid improving VR technology and its falling costs.
This article will delve into the true experience of VR and its transformation to higher education institutions today through the following components:
- What to consider before applying VR
- How VR is transforming students’ lives after graduation
- Academic leadership: the challenges and opportunities that manifest in the VR experience
- How universities are championing student learning with VR
Applying VR today
“Virtual reality is one of the core ways that things can be taught inexpensively, effectively, and safely,” said Scott Garrigan, professor of learning & technology at Lehigh University.
Garrigan has been teaching students and faculty how to use HTC VIVE virtual reality systems in which he introduces a VR system that would help students think of ways to use tech tools to help learners absorb content.
He mentioned that a set of factors should be considered by teachers and academic leadership when engaging in the VR experience, including understanding this new domain and realizing what can be done with it. Noting what is unreasonable to expect and what is practical are also among the things to be considered.
The virtual reality experience is very applicable today, despite the high prices of equipment. The current price of VR headsets can vary between $600 and $3,000; however, a Google Cardboard headset is available, which adapts to users’ smart phones and costs only $7.
In a bid to provide high quality content, tech giants such as Microsoft, Oculus, Google, HTC, Hewlett-Packard, and others cooperated with colleges to create a feedback loop that encourages campuses to try out their products, and report in which capacity it was used and how can the technology be improved.
How VR is transforming student learning, driving promising careers
It is very common for colleges to adopt the use of VR throughout their educational platforms if they seek to promote a global learning experience. Users only need a Samsung Gear VR or Oculus Go headset to connect to classrooms and labs. Hamilton College, for example, has been experimenting with workstations that can handle virtual graphic processing and VR headsets, among other tools, for the past three years to change the student learning experience.
The uses of virtual reality on campuses can also vary greatly. For example, Stanford University has been developing a virtual reality experience called the Virtual Human Interaction Lab, to help people think about empathy and race issues, according to Garrigan. “These are things that normally technology is far away from but the fully immersive experience is something that your gut feels,” he added.
On its part, University of South Wales is using InstaVR to build projects for counterterrorism, crime scene investigation, and to prevent child exploitation. Texas State University is using InstaVR to build interactive trainings for the government’s ambulance buses.
Higher education institutions realize that using VR technology is not only important for students’ learning experiences, but also an asset for their careers after graduation. Students may be asked to employ their VR skills through helping organizations optimize these technologies to become more mainstream, or develop content using it. Therefore students may need to be prepared for the job market in which it will be used.
The VR industry is already booming and will need a workforce with the understanding of the technology. VR is expected to become a $33 billion industry by 2024, growing to be an essential technological tool for day-to-day work.
Challenges and Opportunities in the VR experience
Some of the challenges that stand in the way of implementing a full VR experience may be the inadequate wireless network capacity on some campuses, according to an article by Education Dive.
Another challenge that Education-Tech experts warn against is that if an institution lacks a strong pedagogical foundation, it will only have a primitive impact on students. Consequently, issues in the basis of educational institutions need to be addressed first before bringing VR to the classroom.
Full implementation of VR could also be hard because it is tough to control the user’s attention. For example, an instructor may want students to pay attention to something explained on the right, when students wearing the headsets are looking at the left.
There are a number of opportunities in implementing virtual reality as well, such as learning a foreign language. Garrigan mentioned that South Korea created such an experience to teach Korean language.
There are also human learning experiences that can be introduced through virtual reality.
“One of my students actually learned to overcome her fear of water through VR by wearing the headset and encountering a swimming experience that felt real” Garrigan explained. “She felt it was very intense the first time that she ripped the headset off.”
University role in innovating student learning with VR
Despite the obstacles that could impact the true effect of VR in student learning, many universities are recognizing the importance of virtual and immersive reality to academic and administrative leadership. On its part, Lehigh University is currently training future educators to use emerging technologies in their classrooms.
Groups of educators at Lehigh University are creating curriculum-focused learning experiences in VR including courses in material science, psychology, and parental programs fostering child growth, said Garrigan.
He added that Lehigh University has a team of mid-level technology staff that includes professors and advanced students that are skilled in all phases of VR. The team reports to the university’s senior administrators about concerns or new realizations with implementing the technology.
The Savannah College of Art and Design (SCAD) is another example of a forward-thinking academic leadership, in which the school developed a new degree program in immersive reality in fall of 2018 with the help of faculty, industry leaders, and chairs. It also launched SCADpro, a college program that teams up with companies to put students on real-world projects and products at major companies such as Uber and Disney.
Others such as San Diego State University began setting learning spaces and providing gear for instructors in 2017, while universities abroad are using it differently.
University of the West of Scotland is planning to use VR as part of its Accelerated and Immersive Education initiative, where students around the world will be allowed access to the same interactive VR learning materials as students physically present at the university in Scotland.
It was not very long ago that students and educators could only access libraries that were physically on campus, and needed to travel to other institutions to gain hands-on experience in education and learning. Today’s technologies promoting virtual reality, while still not completely mainstream, promises more experience that will soon be embedded in the lives of academic leaders.
About the author
Fatma Katr is a multimedia journalist who has reported on different beats including politics, business, education, genders issues, human rights and foreign policy. Her reporting is focused in the Middle East region where she majored in print and electronic journalism.