21st-century development in technology has triggered new concepts and methodologies for almost everything we do every day, and education is not the exception.
Furthermore, many new careers and job opportunities exist today because of the continued expansion of technology and information around the world. Employers are not looking for just college degrees anymore but moreover looking for a particular set of skills on their prospects. Meaning that students need to develop the skills required in their school years to succeed in future careers and jobs. Some of those skills are communication, teamwork, problem-solving, leadership, creativity, innovation, computer literacy, moral values, adaptability and decision making.
Many technologies and approaches have risen in the past 20 years with the goal of improving education. However, a significant quantity has not been able to accomplish the results expected. In many cases, technology applications and devices have become more an obstacle to education than a learning enabler. The main problem lies in the fact that technology itself cannot improve learning, is when technology aligns with educational objectives and practices that can improve.
In the past few years, technological approaches such as Virtual, Augmented, Extended and Mixed Reality (VR, AR, ER, MR) have demonstrated their powerful and endless capabilities and applications. Some of the many fields where these technologies are used are military, medicine, engineering, architecture, entertainment, employees training and more recently in education as well. Also, VR and AR have taken giant steps in the ability to create experiences that go beyond what humans can see, feel and experience naturally or that it would cost a lot of money, time or resources. For example, visit a museum in Italy without traveling there or do some skydiving without moving your feet from the floor. Many of these experiences can provide a more in-depth understanding of things.
Several companies such as Google, Facebook and Sony are investing lots of money and resources in Virtual Reality and R&D in similar applications and novelties. For example, Facebook recently redesigned the helmet Oculus Rift, Google opted for Daydream as a platform of RV for smartphones, and Sony launched the PlayStation VR with their RV lenses. Apple has also started to enable VR development in their OS X High Sierra on three major VR software platforms: Steam, Unity, and Unreal.
Before continuing let’s define and explain the concepts of VR, AR, ER, and MR.
Virtual Reality: refers to computer-generated ‘realities’ or ‘scenarios’ that have that purpose of providing an environment where a person can interact, experience and manipulate objects in that specific environment as if it were the real world. The person has to use specialized electronic equipment built for this purpose.
Augmented Reality: contrary to Virtual Reality, Augmented Reality doesn’t require a whole virtual environment setup, it uses real-world physical environments and overlay computer-generated images, objects and digital information to enhance and augment the perception and understanding of the reality.
Mixed Reality: it is a combination of VR and AR. It blends the physical and digital world, according to Microsoft (2017) “Mixed reality is the next evolution in human, computer, and environment interaction and unlocks possibilities that before now were restricted to our imaginations. It is made possible by advancements in computer vision, graphical processing power, display technology, and input systems”.
Extended Reality is a concept that covers or work as an umbrella of all real and virtual environments and the human and computer interactions that result from the different ‘reality’ forms.
The usage of these applications is a little bit new in Education. However, it has demonstrated outstanding results so far. Some of the main benefits of Virtual and Augmented reality in education are:
- Lessons can be much more interactive, inclusive and immersive. Students can be engaged in more profound and more meaningful ways than ever before. They can explore learning environments that allow them to have a better and more profound understanding of the concepts seen in class. The reason is simple: instead of reading a book or watching a video, students can be immersed in scenarios where not only understand but experience with all their senses what they are learning.
- Students can retain more knowledge and for more extended periods by using VR and AR in class.
- We live in a digital area, and kids love technology. When used correctly students demonstrated to be more motivated, engaged and take more ownership of their learning.
- VR and AR should not mean to be teacher-centered, instead should permit the development of opportunities for students to think critically, be creative and foster their intellectual curiosity.
- VR and AR devices are becoming more accessible regarding costs with the time. This technology will save a lot of money on class materials and books shortly.
- Since VR and AR can provide real-world experiences both physically and virtual it can cover all different types of learning styles.
Will VR and AR replace teachers in the future?
No, on the contrary, the educational utility of these resources requires professionals who guide design and assess the different learning experiences develop in and outside of the class, directing the students in their interaction with those applications.
However, the role of the teacher needs to be redefined. The teacher should work as a coach, giving the learning ownership to the students and acting more as a learning facilitator than a magistral teacher.