The use of Virtual Reality (VR) in schools and educational institutions is becoming the new norm. This has especially been true for K-12 schools, as classes from Kindergarten up to Year 12 see a unique use for the technology. This is helping create richer experiences and a more engaging way to learn for students in these levels.
On the other hand, the higher education sector is seeing great potential with VR. The 2018 VR/AR in Research and Education Survey saw that about 28% of higher education institutions engaged in some depth of VR deployment, with 18% having seen full deployment. Despite this, some critics remain hesitant in adopting VR for universities and colleges.
Criticisms on the use of Virtual Reality
There are a few valid criticisms that are being raised by some experts that may impede the application of VR, as well as its close cousin, Augmented Reality, in higher education. Because digital learning is not entirely new, there are existing technologies – although not as immersive as VR – that make the use of it redundant. Despite being around for a couple of decades already, there is still a lack of in-depth studies and research that identifies the most effective means to apply VR and AR in schools.
Moreover, the experience in some VR applications has been observed to be highly emotional rather than factual. This raises more doubt with regards to the ethicality of using the technology, as well as in the psychological responsibilities when VR is applied in learning.
Additionally, because team-based learning has been found to be crucial among university students’ learning culture, the campus experience remains an important factor in honing their expertise. As such, some experts predict that Virtual Reality is bound to suffer the same fate as massive open online courses (MOOCs) – a technology which saw much anticipation only to fail expectations.
Opportunities in embracing Virtual Reality
While the criticisms on virtual reality make its adoption seem impractical and ill-fated, looking at the benefits it can yield could help justify its application and make a lasting impact for students and educators alike, as well as the industry.
Universities can utilise VR as a great way to effectively communicate key teaching concepts, as well as exhibit research findings, especially for people from different courses. VR could be a key aspect in data presentation to help its students and its audience truly understand research results and findings. Because immersive technology allows people to get up-close with visualisations, it could easily provide supplementary information in academic publications, veering away from the usual graphs and charts. In the process, applying VR in this manner will revolutionise how research and education are integrated with each other, and ultimately help its audience retain information more effectively.
VR could also be used by universities to play an important role in external communications. This could be an exciting way for universities to engage with alumni, potential enrollees, and external stakeholders. Because VR platforms can be easily accessible by the public, it could help create a bigger impact within the university community and beyond, stirring interest among prospective students.
“I think there’s pretty good correlation between implementing virtual reality and the increase in our campus visitors.”
– Kim Frisch, Dean for Office of Admissions, Regis University
Areas where Virtual Reality can be effective
One of the most prominent and increasing applications of VR among college students is in online courses. With VR, students can interact within a virtual classroom even if their peers and professors are thousands of miles away.
Experts also argue that VR can be more effective for students if they are encouraged to create VR programs and content themselves. In fact, this phenomenon has already been done in various parts of the world.
In Cairo, architecture students were able to create VR content that allows students to remotely immerse VR users and bring them along a tour of interesting buildings and historic landmarks around the city. Compared with the usual classroom presentation, students undoubtedly had a unique and immersive journey.
On the other hand, various schools are promoting the use of VirtualSpeech – a VR application that helps simulate public speaking scenarios where students hone their public speaking skills which are vital for their careers.
Synopses for VR application in higher education
While today’s application of VR in universities only cover virtual tours and data visualization, through the help of technology innovators and IT experts, the education sector can fully realise VR’s benefits and expand its application. In time, VR can unlock new potential and finally prove its worth for higher institutions of education.