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Will VR Open New Educational Pathways?

By Sean Connick | Published: 1th September 2023

One of the most fascinating technologies to watch at the moment is the rise in popularity of virtual reality. The technology has a huge potential to open new pathways in manufacturing, entertainment, and most importantly, education. In this article, we will explore some real-world uses of VR, how it might change education, and whether it has the potential to avoid becoming one of history's White Elephant Technologies (WETech).

Strictly speaking, VR is not a new technology; its origins can be traced back to 1838 with Charles Wheatstone's Stereoscopic photos and viewers. He demonstrated that the brain processes the two-dimensional images from each eye into a single three-dimensional object. Viewing two side-by-side stereoscopic images or photos through a stereoscope gave the user a sense of depth and immersion. The stereoscopic technology was later improved upon in the 1929 Link Flight simulator. This was the first successful attempt at creating a truly immersive experience, including the use of actuators to simulate movement.

In 1968, the first head-mounted headset, the "Sword of Damocles," was created by Ivan Sutherland and his student Bob Sproull.If we skip forward to the 1990s, VR was mainly being used for entertainment, such as VR arcades, and in 1993, SEGA announced new VR glasses. Or the culturally significant 1999 film 'The Matrix.' It was the 2010s when the technology really found its everyday use. In 2010, Google launched Street View. This led to products such as the Rift and the HTC Vive being introduced into a rapidly expanding market.Since 2019, Facebook has been working on the Metaverse, which has the potential to make the technology as commonplace as electric lighting. This list isn't meant to be a definitive history but an introduction to the history. We would encourage you to read further if you are interested.Source.

Now that we have looked at the past, let's turn our attention to the future, where VR could potentially make a significant impact in the classroom. First of all, let's address the elephant in the room – the challenges faced by schools and educators in adopting VR. Currently, the cost of the equipment remains a prominent concern. The average price for a standard VR headset and controller is between $379 and $500. For most schools and educational institutes, this pricing is certainly unaffordable.Source.There are other issues as well, such as the lack of experience that most educators have in using VR, and the potential effects it might have on children.Source.

Now that's out of the way, let's look at some of the exciting benefits. VR can bring subjects to life. It has the potential to revitalize subjects such as History, Geography, Art, and field trips. VR holds the ability to transport students from the flat worlds of textbooks to places like ancient Rome.Source. It can take students on their first school trip to a national art collection, even if they are separated by thousands of miles.Source.This can make education not just informative but also a highly memorable experience, and it can significantly boost knowledge retention.Source.Due to the nature of VR headsets, traditional classroom distractions are removed, thus improving learning outcomes. VR, being far more engaging than traditional learning tools, helps relieve boredom.Source.Some studies have suggested that the use of VR can improve the levels of confidence a student has, as it pushes them to embrace new things and adapt.Source.

VR has the potential to revolutionize the classroom. If used alongside educational professionals, education can become something beyond our imagination. However, unless the price of the equipment becomes more affordable, the technology may remain exclusive, limited only to students from more well-off backgrounds. But as the technology becomes widespread, the unit price is likely to decrease. VR is clearly not a White Elephant Technology (WETech) and is only more likely to expand across more aspects of our lives. We look forward to seeing where it is going to lead.

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