Virtual reality is becoming incredibly popular across education and one of the obvious subjects to benefit from this technology is history. Teachers can now use VR to bring a subject to life and provide pupils with a first person perspective of a particular topic. This article is going to provide teachers with an insight into what VR apps and programs are available for teaching history, as well as some specific examples of how VR can be embedded into the classroom straight away.
What Apps Are Available?
Arguably the most popular VR app across education is Google Expeditions. This app is available to download for free on the Play Store or App Store and comes with over 1000 different topics to choose from (ranging across every subject). In history for example, you can cover WW1, WW2, Ancient Egypt, the Mayans, Ancient Greece, the Romans and many more. Google Expeditions is a collection of 360-degree panoramas and only requires a smartphone and VR headset.
Another smartphone based app that can be used as a self-guided lesson with your pupils is Lithodomos Engage. This free app can be downloaded from both the Play Store and the App Store and provides pupils with the opportunity of exploring Pompeii, Olympia, the Acropolis and various Roman theatres. Pupils can wear headphones and be narrated through the experience which is always an added bonus.
Another great app for History is Imageen VR. You can watch a gladiator fight inside the Colosseum, step inside a spectacular temple dedicated to Emperor Augustus and visit some Roman baths in Italy. You can access this app on a smartphone but I would recommend using it on an Oculus Go if you have the option. Another key point I like about this app is that you are able to switch between present day and ancient history. It’s great to be able to compare what the ruins of the Colosseum look like today and what they may have looked like thousands of years ago. The only slight drawback to this app is that you’ll need to pay £1.50 to download it and you’ll need plenty of space left on your device to store it.
Two Practical Examples of How VR Can Be Used in History
If you’re teaching about WW1 and life inside the trenches, what could be better than transporting your class inside some reconstructed trenches. Your pupils would be introduced to the conditions inside the trenches, what tasks were regularly undertaken and more importantly what it would have been like to be a soldier during WW1. By giving your class a first person perspective your pupils can truly empathise with what soldiers went through. As a follow up activity, your pupils could write a letter from the perspective of a soldier as if they were communicating with family members back home. Your class could include facts they’ve learnt whilst exploring the reconstructed trenches and draw upon their emotions from emphasising with the soldiers. We have a follow up lesson plan for this activity that you can download for free here.
If you’re covering Ancient Rome, you can transport your class ‘virtually’ to see the Colosseum in Rome. Not only can you provide your pupils with an aerial perspective of the Colosseum but you can also take them inside to see what this amazing stadium looks like today. Another amazing aspect about VR is that you can also transport your class back in time so that they can imagine what the Colosseum would have been like 2,000 years ago. Based on historical evidence, developers have created a computer-generated impression of what the Colosseum would have been like when the gladiators fought inside. This provides your pupils with a unique perspective and could be used as inspiration for some amazing class work. For example, your pupils could write a historical recount, a travel brochure about the Colosseum or they could even draw on art and design and reconstruct their own stadium. We have a follow up lesson plan all about the Colosseum that you can download for free here.
VR is set to become more and more mainstream in schools over the next decade and some history teachers are already embracing this technology in their lessons. At the moment, VR equipment can be expensive and there is a risk of it becoming out-dated. If you want to bring one of your topics to life and you are worried about investing in VR at this moment, you could always invite a company like PrimeVR into your school to help with this.