I’m often asked, what value does Virtual Reality, VR, bring to education? To which I typically reply, equity. While most, including my immediate peers, usually squint and ask how so?, there is currently a myriad of VR experiences that can bring equity to education where no other tool has been able to. We will talk about some examples today but also check out The VR Podcast where I Co-Host talks on VR in education and business. In this episode, we reflect on Ready Player One and the endless educational possibilities the “Oasis” could bring.
“The socioeconomic profile of a district is a powerful predictor of the average test score performance of students in that district,” Reardon said. “Nonetheless, poverty is not destiny: There are districts with similarly low-income student populations where academic performance is higher than others. We can – and should – learn from such places to guide community and school improvement efforts in other communities.” These conclusions were made after research was completed at Stanford’s Graduate School of Education lead by Professor Sean Reardon. It largely addresses the inequities in education that challenge our students daily.
When hearing, sight, and touch are linked the subconscious mind cannot distinguish the experience as fake and thus strong memories are created. This ability to create memories from experiences that are typically not possible is the power that VR yields.
How can VR bring equity to education? Have you heard of Google Expeditions? Most educators have and at just over 3 years old, Google Expeditions has paved the way for immersive education in schools. Using mobile VR technology, 3 DOF, degrees of freedom, students are guided through a virtual tour. With that tour comes teacher resources in the form of discussion points and the ability for the teacher to control what the students were seeing while they, the students, still had control over the angle and direction of their focus in the 360, VR virtual field trip. Is this low tech? Sort of and perhaps that’s why I wasn’t such a huge fan of “Virtual Field Trips” initially. Expeditions brought equity where access to VR was typically non-existent.
I’ve personally have given a lot of flak to “Virtual Field Trips” and it’s not because I’m a hater, it’s because I was narrow-minded and enthusiastic about all of the other amazing immersive VR experiences coming out. However, earlier this year I had the pleasure of watching a recording of Jeremy Bailenson speaking about his book, Experience on Demand, which is amazing by the way. He stated the reasons why we should use VR and those were, for the Impossible, Rare, Expensive, Counterproductive and Dangerous. It immediately clicked for me. Based on one’s paradigm, Virtual Reality can add tremendous value and even provide equity where there once was none.
Say for example your paradigm is such that access to, which at the very least includes cost and proximity, a Zoo is normal for you. In this case, a virtual field trip might not be a worthy use case for VR. Instead, you can physically take a field trip to a Zoo. If your paradigm is such that it’s cost prohibitive, far, etc., then a Virtual Field Trip to a Zoo is a worthwhile experience. Generally speaking, access to a zoo falls largely into the category of funding because if a school felt there was value in taking students to a zoo and money was no object, they could fly a class to their zoo of choice. If the research that Reardon conducted is true, then this lack of funding results in a lack of experiences for students and would likely translate into lower test scores within that school.
“The socioeconomic profile of a district is a powerful predictor of the average test score performance of students in that district,…” “Nonetheless, poverty is not destiny…” – Reardon.
What about the impossible? It’s not possible for us to revisit World War II and speak to Holocaust victims. Yes, there are museums and there are still some schools who have access to survivors that visit and share their first-hand account of the tragedy. This invaluable experience isn’t something that every school has access too and so programs like New Dimensions in Testimony, NDT, exist to archive and bring Holocaust survivor testimony to people, most importantly schools. This brings equity…
Lastly, the counterproductive. I love the idea of bringing the best of the best to everyone, anywhere, anytime. Programs like Engage and Rumii offer educator focused collaborative VR learning environments. Imagine a lecture hall where all of the participants and the presenter are in VR. Think back to Ready Player One and in the book, there is a planet called Ludus. Ludus is where all of the Oasis schools are located. In the book, Cline describes in detail what the educational system on Ludus looks like. He describes a flexible and customizable learning environment. One that I think could bring equity to learning whether you are connecting from an affluent or impoverished neighborhood. He describes the fact that teachers can instantly take students on interactive virtual field trips which provide high levels of immersion translating into a better understanding of the subject. Furthermore, we can also imagine that students had access to visit historical events with high fidelity and full immersion. Imagine too, the possibility of constructing new outcomes with “artificially intelligent virtual interaction”, an experience that would place you in a place and time in history that you could interact with and examine how different choices might have changed the outcome of history. In the book, we see this type of technology used as Parzival is asked to complete a Flicksync of the movie WarGames. He is asked to recite dialogue as the character, David, and Parzival can deviate causing various changes to the Ficksync story and environment.
Hopefully, by now you can see why I am so excited for Virtual Reality in Education. Dropping into VR provides a real world, immersive experience that links key critical core senses together. When hearing, sight, and touch are linked the subconscious mind cannot distinguish the experience as fake and thus strong memories are created. This ability to create memories from experiences that are typically not possible is the power that VR yields. So with VR experiences like NDT, virtual field trips to zoos and collaborative learning environments like Engage and Rumii, we can bring equitable experiences to education that could ultimately provide not just higher test scores but increased opportunity, knowledge and most importantly an inspiration to all students.
Local education inequities across U.S. revealed in new Stanford data set:
Jeremy Bailenson, Stanford Virtual Human Interaction Lab:
Jeremy Bailenson, Experience on Demand:
Ready Player One Movie/Book:
USC Shoah Foundation, New Dimensions in Testimony:
The VR Podcast Equity in VR:
About the Author:
Steven Sato is currently the Technology Director for a K8 Independent School in Los Angeles. He has been an educator for 19 years and as a life-long learner he dedicates his time to the advancement of K12 education through the appropriate use of technology. He is a Google Certified Innovator, the Co-Organizer of the LA Immersive Edtech Meetup Group and the Co-Host of The Virtual Reality Podcast. He focuses on the integration and research of immersive technologies such as Virtual and Augmented Reality in K12 Education and believes these technologies will revolutionize how we meet the goal of transferring knowledge to pupils. Steven also focuses on creating and maintaining strategic partnerships between K12 Education and the Immersive Industry through the curation and coordination of immersive experiences for conferences.