How Oculus is Being Used in Education
Education is what makes our society thrive. Transferring knowledge to others has long since been the goal of civilizations right from the outset. People seek new ways all the time of moving knowledge more quickly, more effectively, and more efficiently.
In our digital era, we are faced with a new opportunity to harness learning and knowledge in ways that have only been dreamed of before. Virtual Reality (VR) is the next step in our education’s evolution. Devices such as the Oculus headsets are now being employed in new ways throughout all sectors. But, education is one such sector of our societies that we can already see the benefits.
Right now, Oculus is launching Oculus Education pilot programs across the world, namely in Japan, Taiwan and Seattle at present. The programs will launch the use of Oculus headsets into the libraries, schools, and museums. The program aims to understand how these institutions can use VR headsets to enhance learning and collaboration. Oculus will be training teachers and instructors on how to use the devices. Another aim of the program is to gain valuable insight and feedback from the educators themselves as to how to improve the software for education.
The Education Evolution
Before we look into how VR can improve education, first, it is essential to look at how education has changed over the years and why forward-thinking and change is needed.
Fifty years ago, education was more 'chalk and talk.' Just in the last twenty years, we have seen the rise of digital projectors and subsequently, interactive whiteboards. Knowing the advantages that the previous technologies brought to the delivery of lessons, teachers and educators are excited about the possibilities of pushing the technology further with VR and Augmented Reality (AR) too. It, quite literally, opens up new worlds in their classrooms.
Historically, any teaching technology has been designed to be a learning aid, allowing students to access information. Before the technologies of whiteboards and video projectors, we had paper resources such as books. But, nowadays, a simple Google search will give us all the information we could need or glean from a book.
So, while our knowledge has been easy to grasp as it’s so readily available, there still exist two problems in the current teaching approach. It’s still based on:
- Retaining facts – teaching is focused on this. Providing access to information. But, informing doesn’t mean being educated.
- Difficulties in understanding. If teaching is focused on giving facts, there is often too much information for students, and it can overwhelm them and their understanding. They, therefore, become bored and disengaged.
New methods have to be about engaging students. Let’s not forget: the students of today are used to the fast-paced digital world, perhaps much more than their teachers are! So it’s time that this was harnessed, to pique their interest and allow them to learn in new ways.
The Advantages of VR such as Oculus in Education
VR headsets such as those from Oculus have the function of being able to enhance not only learning but engagement in learning too. Instead of looking at a projection or a video on a whole-class whiteboard, it works by creating a whole virtual world, which could be imagined or real. It also allows learners to interact with 'reality.' We can all see the benefits that this would have. Being fully immersed in the topic you’re learning gives you the motivation that you need to understand it fully. It also means that there’s less load, cognitively-speaking, on your brain, allowing you to process information more easily. Let's have a look at some ways in which VR like the Oculus can be used.
Rather than looking at re-imagined pictures in books or on the board, students can walk through a virtual world historically. They can interact with the buildings, people, and landscape of a particular time in the past. Examples could be a battlefield scenario, exploring a castle, exploring ancient Rome or being in a frontline trench in World War 1, for example. By truly experiencing the realities of history, students will have an emotional response. We all know the old adage that was attributed to Maya Angelou that states that:
"People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel."
The same is true for education and our experiences. If you can cause students to feel something, they will remember it more than if you simply explained it in words.
VR lends itself well to exploring science. From zooming in on an atom and turning it around in our fingers to delving deep into the structure of a plant or the human body, VR works exceptionally well in a science classroom.
Of course, not all field trips across the world are possible to do in person. VR works well in geography lessons by giving an immersion into a specific place. You could effectively visit any site on the globe with VR, giving a much more inspiring experience. Dive deep into a volcano or walk along the Great Wall of China: it’s all there at a touch of a button.
Using VR devices like the Oculus headsets are fundamental in this new age of education. If we have a visceral reaction rather than a passive experience in the classroom, it is much easier to form memories and therefore retain knowledge for the future. Think back to your most significant memories from school. Do you remember the lessons much? Or is it more experiences that you remember. We would guess that it is the latter. From my own experience, as a child, I remember a time that my science teacher accidentally set fire to something. He used this as an opportunity to describe the properties of ethanol. Another time, was when my geography teacher took our class to a riverbank so we could look at the features of a river. On the contrary, I don’t remember the hours and hours I must have spent reading a textbook or looking at the whiteboard.
VR is the future of education. It's the ultimate way of engaging our learners so that they retain the knowledge that we want them to maintain. They, in turn, can become future educators and pass on their expertise in the most appropriate ways for future generations.
Our next big hurdle is reliant on teachers deciding to adopt the technology in their classrooms. It’s a big leap!