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Virtual reality, otherwise known as VR, seems to be a bit of a buzzword at the moment. 2016 was flagged as the ‘Year of VR’, with more and more companies launching their own software and headsets. Sony released their PlayStation VR, Microsoft launched their HoloLens and there are rumours Apple have hired VR expert, Jeff Norris, from NASA. Lots of sectors, not just education, are looking into how they can incorporate VR into their normal everyday practices. For example, concerts and gigs are being streamed live; theme parks are using VR headsets during their rides; retail stores are creating fully immersive shopping experiences; travel agents are showing customers their dream holidays; the list, and possibilities, go on and on.

VR has the potential to transform education. Rather than using textbooks, teachers can immerse students in 360° worlds. For example, a Geography teacher can show students the impact of global warming in Antarctica; a History teacher can transport their class into the trenches during WW1 and a Science teacher can take students inside the respiratory system. In this article, I aim to highlight five benefits that VR can bring to the classroom.

1) Increase student engagement

Remember zoning out or daydreaming in a lesson? I think you’d be lying if you said that never happened to you. I think it’s important to remember that students go from one lesson to another, usually five times a day, five days a week. Their routine can become monotonous. VR is a good opportunity to break this and really open their eyes. Using VR for 10 minutes at the start of a lesson can really captivate interest and set a precedent for the rest of the lesson.

2) Encourages discussion and questioning

If used in the right way, VR can be really helpful for encouraging a discussion or prompting students to ask questions. An image in a textbook can be effective in prompting students to question something but immersing students in a 360° image really encourages them to explore and use their curiosity. It’s also a good idea to use VR for group activities or in pairs, as it encourages students to discuss with one another.

 3) Excellent resource for students with social/emotional/behavioural needs

There is a lot of research to suggest that VR can be beneficial for students with social, emotional and behavioural needs. For example, studies have found that VR can be used as a tool for people who suffer from anxiety. It has also been at the centre of a number of studies regarding autism. According to a study by Autism Speaks (2014), virtual reality has been helping individuals with autism to recognise subtle cues in different social situations. We can expect as VR continues to grow in popularity, the number of studies will also increase alongside it, providing a greater amount of evidence to evaluate its impact for students with social, emotional and behavioural needs.

4) Makes a subject more relatable

Sometimes, it’s difficult to convince students of the relevance of certain concepts in everyday life. I can definitely relate to this. When I was in school, I always used to question the relevance of knowing algebra. It’s only until I left school that I really saw how I would need it. VR can be used to show students the application of concepts to real scenarios. For example, students can apply what they have learned in Maths to work out the volume of one of the Pyramids of Giza. I think this is the same for every subject. In Geography for example, can students really understand the devastating impacts of an earthquake without seeing it.

5) Active vs. passive learning

Passive learning is when a student receives information from a teacher, internalises it and receives no feedback. In other words, there is little or no engagement with the teacher and student. When I think back over my education, I had very much a passive experience. I would cram information prior to an exam without truly understanding a concept and then forget everything as soon as I left the exam hall. Active learning on the other hand aims to create curiosity and involve the student in the learning process. Think about discussion, collaboration, critical thinking and connecting the dots together. The ownership shifts from the teacher to the student. VR helps encourage the latter. Students can explore, discover for themselves and push their own learning forward through enquiry and curiosity. That curiosity also naturally creates a collaborative environment in your classroom, as students ask questions and contribute to discussions.

VR is already transforming the education sector. Resources such as Google Expeditions are being used in schools across the UK to help create awe and wonder. If you are interested in VR, follow us on Twitter (@primevruk) for further tips and ideas for incorporating VR into your school. We also provide free resources such as lesson plans for Google Expeditions that can be downloaded here.

If you have any questions about VR, contact us on info@primevr.co.uk.