So, the release of the Oculus Rift is getting us tech geeks all excited. And Microsoft is working towards making the Hololens a viable prospect. HTC is also ready with a cool-looking system, and I'm sure many others will be following and refining their systems in the next few years. I am convinced that virtual reality headsets and peripherals are going to be a really big thing in the next 5 years. Already, the gaming industry is frenetically building immersive virtual reality experiences. (Amongst them quite a few horror titles – Um… nope. And nope again!) And, as we usually do, tech-minded teachers are thinking about how we can use virtual reality to enhance our lessons.
Here's what I would like for virtual reality in education:
Imagine if we could find a forward-looking developer who could create a world-builder / sandbox programme for teachers. The educationally-minded could set parameters like:
- Victorian England
- The Human Body
- Volcanic Features
- The New York Stock Exchange
- The International Space Station
- Atomic Structures
- The Grand Canyon
- World War 1
- The Combustion Engine
- Oceania (From 1984)
- The World in 2050
- The Smithsonian Museum
- Contemporary Madrid
And so on
These parameters could then be used as seeds to generate virtually real, 'living' worlds for our students to explore and engage in as part of their History, Earth Science, Physical Science, Biology, Chemistry, English, Art, Additional Language and Technology classes (and I'm sure we could find meaningful ways to add the rest too). The idea being, that the worlds created are never quite the same twice, a bit like the No Man's Sky algorithm.
Teachers and students could then tweak and even combine these worlds to add specific details, features, labels, characters, quests and integrated experiences to immerse themselves in.
We could even gamify these experiences and allow the kids to earn experience points, level-ups, etc. Also, teachers and therapists could use these virtual worlds for remedial lessons, and save the best experiences as kind of a library for kids to re-experience. Perhaps students could even tinker with the code to create their own customised worlds. (While I think of it, imagine how awesome a reimagined, immersive 3-D drag and drop coding programme like Scratch could be.) Best of all, we could create problems and challenges for our students to work on and tinker with – a kind of unlimited virtual makerspace, if you will.
I know the price tag is likely to remain high for the next few years, and, as with tablet devices, I believe we need to carefully control how much 'screen time' we allow, but I truly believe that this is a technology which will quickly find a home in schools. (In fact, I would love it if educationalists could find a way to adopt VR as the vanguard, instead of being our usual careful, 'give it a bit of time' selves.) And most of the world's young people will now have the opportunity to explore places and worlds they will never get to see in the real world – they may only be simulations, but they can be made into rich experiences for those students.
Now all we need is some kind of advanced haptic feedback mechanism to go with these rich new worlds.
Get cracking coders!