Education has to constantly be updated as discoveries are made, new techniques are developed, and questions about the past are answered. However, the content of our education is not the only thing that has to be kept modern. The methods that teachers use to teach also determines how well students learn. Technology has advanced the capabilities of teaching, and as more accomplishments are made in technology, we discover many more of its applications in education. One of the most advanced creations in technology is virtual reality, which is used to view a simulated space from a 3D perspective. Instead of seeing something through a frame, as a student would with a picture or movie, the artificial world is projected all around. Virtual reality is experienced using a headpiece with a plastic case mounted to the front.

Inside the headpiece is one screen for each eye; each screen tricks the user into perceiving depth in the images that he or she is presented with. The headset is paired with a controller in each hand which allows the student to manipulate the space they are seeing. Although virtual reality is most commonly used for entertainment and cinematic experience, it can be valuable in enhancing education, so once it is implemented correctly it will prove to be a remarkable teaching tool. The capabilities of this technology will make lesson plans for students come to life by recreating historical sites and events, helping students stay engaged in their work, and providing a way to get hands-on experience in the classroom.

Many people’s perception and understanding of historical events are limited by what others document and photograph because they lack the means to travel and see new places. Luckily, with technology developed over many years, we have documentation in the form of pictures and video. These media forms have been immeasurably helpful in education, as they give a visual understanding of the material. The next step is to then improve upon these with the help of virtual reality. Seeing a 2D image from a locked perspective and a full 3D environment can convey very different understandings of a given topic.
Not only can historical events be recreated in a virtual world to help students immerse themselves, but they can use this technology to bring places that would otherwise be too far to travel right into the classroom.

A great example is Notre Dame. After the tragic fire that destroyed much of it, people began to work on a virtual recreation of the site. They used already existing models as a base for their program, and now people can tour through the whole building, both before and after the fire, without leaving their homes. It takes a lot of dedication and time to build an accurate VR recreation from the ground up, but if other places with strong cultural and historical significance such as this were to be recreated as accurately as Notre Dame, students could tour the world. Along with improving the actual content of education, it can also improve how engaging it is to students. Many students feel bored with school and have little to no interest in what they are taught. Virtual reality makes lessons more fun, as experiencing a lesson in a virtual space is very different from reading the lesson off of a paper.

Both can still teach the material effectively, but students will be far more likely to focus if they find personal enjoyment in the activity. Another reason for this is the change in scenery for a student. Occasionally, teachers will bring their class outside or somewhere else in the building for a lesson, and this is to help students break out of the monotonous routine they associate with the classroom. A VR lesson is an alternative solution to this, as students are not faced with the same white walls and rows of brown desks that they always see as they learn. This all too familiar sight is replaced with something new; teachers can send them to watch a legion of Roman soldiers being commanded by Caesar, a caravan of pioneers travelling down the Oregon trail, or even be a part of the crowd listening to Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech.

This is simply because using virtual reality, even if for educational purposes, does not feel like work. It’s something new, it’s interesting, and it feels like a game. As the way the lesson is taught becomes more memorable, so does the lesson itself. Engagement has a massive positive effect on the learning experience, and VR is one of the best ways to achieve that. Some lessons require a physical demonstration or hands-on lab. Many lessons like this are also hard to practice with every person, either because the required materials are expensive or the situation is dangerous. A virtual reality experience can be just as educational, but without any of the risks involved, which is especially useful in the midst of a pandemic. One of the best examples of this is in the medical field. Medical schools have had to struggle with figuring out how to maintain their quality of education while also obeying social distancing guidelines, and as a result, many students in medical school didn’t get any real-world experience in the past year; this chance to continue their studies is a great opportunity for aspiring doctors. Teachers can no longer hold classroom demonstrations, so finding an alternative method has never been more necessary.

Virtual lessons can be even more valuable than they were in person, considering the sheer versatility of the technology. Students are able to have individual work stations since performing procedures no longer requires expensive materials. More importantly, practicing procedures on a human no longer requires a cadaver every time. The practice can be achieved free of the limitations of the real world, as well as save lives. While it is very risky to have a student perform an operation that they’re unfamiliar with, it is perfectly fine for them to practice in the virtual world where nobody can get hurt. This first-hand training is invaluable in a situation where muscle memory is necessary for consistent success.

Repeating a procedure many times over builds hand-eye coordination. A purely theoretical knowledge of how to do something complicated is not enough to replicate it. There is always a physical component that can’t be learned through any other means but practice. The idea is similar to the flight industry using flight simulators to train their pilots. Students learning to fly are subjected to many trial runs before they are permitted to get in a real plane, resulting in a much higher skill level among pilots. If pilots go through this process in order to improve the safety of flights, doctors should also go through this process to improve the safety of their practice.

While it will take time and resources to implement on a large scale, virtual reality has the ability to open up a new realm of specialized education. Technology is always making great advancements, and schooling systems need to stay modern in order to best capitalize on the opportunities they have been given. By improving the content of education, providing new means of teaching, and allowing for simulated training, institutions can use the technology to make great strides in their quality of education.

Author's Bio: 

I am a computer science professor. Being a tech enthusiast I keep close tabs on trends and will be glad to share and discuss the latest wrapups in the field with the community.