Is there any child of the 70’s or 80’s who didn’t spend hours as a child, gazing through their View-Master, clicking around the film cartridges which revealed 3d images of nature, super heroes and classic stories? The View-Master allowed us to escape into an imaginative world in a different way to books or television; by holding it up to our eyes, the whole world disappeared as our field of vision was completely taken up by these tiny slides.
Technology now allows for an immersive experience light years beyond the simple View-Master of the past. Technology such as the Oculus Rift and the Samsung Gear VR are bringing Virtual Reality out of science fiction, and thanks to the incredibly cheap Google Cardboard Virtual Reality viewer, into the hands of everyday people. In some areas, virtual reality is seen as the natural next step to how we interact with media content, from gaming to movies and more.
What is VR…really?
This video, gives a fantastic, simple explanation for those new to the idea of Virtual Reality. Click the image below to access it on the Time website.
Put simply, VR is the experience of a computer generated simulation or 3D image, made possible by the use of technology such as a helmet or viewer. The ability to ‘trick’ the mind into thinking that the individual is actually ‘there’ within the environment which is in fact ‘virtual’ is the amazing and fascinating aspect of VR, which removes it from other experiences of media. When viewing a VR App which features a rollercoaster ride, users may feel the same feelings of dizziness and displacement that they would when actually riding the real thing.
Of course, the more advanced the VR system, the more fully immersed within the environment the user becomes. Simple apps combined with a Google Cardboard Viewer provide enough immersion to make one feel a little ill, but the lack of audio stimulus and real interactivity limits just how ‘real’ the experience feels. This is a good thing for younger students – being able to pull the viewer away at any moment of discomfort is important. For older or more experienced users of VR, they may wish to trial technologies that provide a much fuller immersion; where sensory stimulation including the sense of touch (e.g. wind blowing through your hair as you fly) and audio (the rushing sound as you soar) as well as the ability to interact with the environment actually makes the computer disappear, as the brain becomes fully engaged with the virtual world. For a deeper explanation about how VR works, a great article that is easy to read is How Virtual Reality Works by Jonathan Strickland.
Earlier this year, Annabel Astbury, head of Digital Education at the ABC, predicted VR would create exciting potential for learners, highlighting the Horizon Report K-12 2016 edition, which projects adoption in classrooms within 2-3 years. She outlines how immersive VR experiences such as the Global Nomad group’s Experience of Syria allows students to develop empathy and explore for themselves what life is like for children trapped in a war zone. Their lesson One World, Many Stories, aims to develop cultural identity, critical thinking and global awareness by enabling students to walk in the shoes of others in a way never before possible.
I personally love the beautiful War of Words, which features a reading of Siegfried Sassoon’s poem ‘The Kiss’. This app demonstrates a way VR might be used to engage students in poetry through the immersion in an atmospheric experience that conveys a tone that a simple reading may not provide. Enabling students to almost physically enter the world of the text opens up immense possibilities. A hybrid sitting between the book and the movie, books could include points during the story where the reader is encouraged to put down the physical book and pick up the virtual visor, to experience an adventure along with the characters. Combining the two technologies (book and VR) would enrich the experience, while providing new ways to encourage beginning readers to interpret the text.
While it seems obvious that gaming will be where a large proportion of development will happen in the VR world, the ability to experience ‘being there’ from the safety of a classroom has obvious appeal for the educator. Having the ability to walk through historical sites, to experience times in history such as World War One or to investigate Outer Space are just some of the most immediate examples of how virtual reality might play a part in learning.
One of the features of VR is the individual nature of the experience. Although we may wear a VR headset within a room of other people, once the virtual environment is entered currently, we are alone. The isolating effect of the VR headset may increase what some already see as a growing disconnect between people. Will we continue to become, as Sherry Turkle says even more Alone Together?
One thing my research and recent experiences participating in Open Network Learning is leading me to understand is the vital importance of relationships in learning. While we may absorb new information through solitary actions, it is only when we argue, dialogue, express, teach, remix and redistribute this information that it transforms into knowledge. While VR may offer us new, amazing and previously unattainable experiences, it will be what we do with these experiences, how we process and share them with others, how we allow them to inform our actions and relationships, that will provide the true learning.
Intrigued and want to know more?
I have created a Pinterest Board (access below) which has a range of links to apps, articles and research, and if you wish to keep up to date, check out my Flipboard, to which I will be adding articles of interest.