Though not a complete replacement for real-life teachers, AR and VR can be fantastic teaching tools. Let’s take a look at the benefits and drawbacks of using this tech for education.

As we move into the future, education methods are constantly changing based on better understanding of different learning styles (or lack thereof). Implementations of VR and AR tech are also on the rise.

Even simple applications of abstract concepts are improving education. Just take a look at this metacognition study in a Utah chemistry course.

VR and AR seem to exemplify this shiny, new technology-driven world we’re living in. If it can be used to expand pedagogical efficacy in schools, why not give a headset to every student? Of course, we must first consider the total impact of such a widespread application. So, what are the true pros and cons of VR and AR as teaching tools?

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Google Daydream VR
Google Daydream VR

First Steps: Which Subject Matter Lends Itself Best to VR and AR?

As has been hotly debated, learning styles may or may not be a factor in how people absorb information.

VR is extremely immersive is it creates an entirely different virtual experience. AR, on the other hand, can be extremely accessible as the experience still relies on engaging our physical world. This is no time for games, but Harry Potter AR is coming out soon

Perhaps VR and AR are separately more efficient or more well-suited to helping certain types of learners.

Due to the interactive nature of the tech, history and science are prime subjects with which to start. VR could allow students to look inside the sun, to visualize fusion reactions. 

Would the Civil War be more interesting to the average student if they could be transported to the Battle of Gettysburg in a VR headset? 

Would an AR projection of a scale model of a cotton gin help to explain to the average student how incredible the rise of machinery was during the Industrial Revolution?

Undoubtedly, the answer is yes. History has, since movies became mainstream, been more interesting on the screen than on the page.

Application: What Can VR and AR Do in the Classroom?

Learning about the Han dynasty using a VR headset to instantly drop you in the thick of Emperor Gaozu of Han’s imperial court could be life-changing. Taking a step through the cell membrane of a somatic cell. Learning about the chemical structure of plutonium from Marie Curie herself.

As a result of the tech itself, the possibilities for historical immersion using VR are numerous. Similarly, you could use AR to show a visual chemical equation. This would allow students to “balance” the equation by interacting with the app.

It is important to note that neither of these approaches eliminates the need for a human teacher. While virtual and augmented reality technology can be immersive and informative, it will never replace a flesh and blood instructor able to interact with a student in real time.

In fact, if students are going to be witnessing the atom bomb drop, wouldn’t having a teacher there to help decompress after such an event be more important than ever?

VR can provide an experience, but what information is actually conveyed? A teacher is still better suited to provide context.

So What is the Downside of Using AR and VR as Teaching Tools?

One of the biggest arguments against and concerns about AR/VR as teaching tools is the involvement of human instructors. As UCSB biologist Douglas McCauley contends in a article:

“You have this augmented experience of looking at a detail or process you can’t see in real life… I think there’s an interesting possibility there to enhance the outdoor experience. But how far do you push that before you lose some of the core values of being in nature: the opportunity to chat with the person next to you rather than staring at your phone, or the capacity to actually see the plant and experience nature with your own eyes rather than on a digital screen.”

Google Expeditions
Google Expeditions |

McCauley raises a fair point. This contention can also be applied to how medical students engage with practical applications of medical knowledge.

As realistic as performing surgery via VR would be, it would not replace the actual experience of operating on a real, live human being or animal. Students would need to experience the “real thing” before becoming fully fledged medical professionals.

What’s more, doesn’t the inclusion of this technology in class become the ultimate fidget spinner? How are teachers supposed to control the misuse of this equipment?

Viability and Accessibility

In the realm of neuroanatomy, one study found that there were no discernible differences in information absorption. However, students who used the VR approach did score much higher on motivation assessments.

image of students using VR in classroom for article Pros and Cons of VR, AR as Teaching Tools
Students using VR in classroom |

This means that, as an ancillary tool to current teaching methods, AR and VR could both be incredibly useful. It can spur curiosity, help students better understand perspectives other than their own, and allow for completely unprecedented learning experiences.

As for the complete incorporation of virtual reality or augmented reality tech in education, we are still a while away from that integration.

The high cost of virtual reality hardware prohibits widespread use of the technology. Augmented reality, while more likely, does not offer as immersive an experience.

These technologies can expand the experience of learning, but they can’t replace a wise instructor.

In what ways could current day classrooms incorporate augmented reality tech into their curriculum?

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