If you remember the Pokémon Go craze, you already know how engaging augmented and virtual reality is for kids. As a teacher, I watched my nephews obsess over finding Pokéstops and capturing Squirtles and wondered if this kind of tech had any promise for classroom use.
When I looked into it, I found that a ton of teachers was already successfully using both augmented reality and virtual reality in their classrooms.
Two years later, educational AR and VR tech has advanced even more. It’s more affordable and user-friendly than ever. From kindergarten to med school, teachers are leveraging AR and VR for student learning. And tech companies are capitalizing on the opportunity, producing more high-quality apps and programs designed specifically for classroom use.
All of this means that if you haven’t seen virtual reality or augmented reality in a classroom yet, you probably will soon. But how do we know that these technologies are anything more than a flashy trend? Do they actually improve learning? And if they do, how do you get started?
What’s the Difference between Augmented and Virtual Reality?
Let’s start with the basics. Though augmented and virtual reality has similarities, understanding the distinctions is important to understanding how they’d be used differently in a classroom setting.
Virtual reality involves total immersion. Typically, you need some kind of headset like Google Cardboard. With your viewer, you’ll be able to see a 360° view of the virtual world and feel like you’re really there.
Unlike VR, augmented reality doesn’t immerse you in another setting. Instead, it takes your existing world and layers it with some kind of interactive digital element. In Pokémon Go, for example, Pikachu seems to appear in your living room. Or, with an app like Quiver, images from coloring pages seem to come to life.
What Does the Research Say About Augmented and Virtual Reality in the Classroom?
Okay, so that all sounds really cool, but I wanted to know if these flashy pieces of tech could actually help my students. The last thing teachers want to do is spend instruction time on a fad piece of edtech that doesn’t improve student outcomes. Introducing any new tool into our teaching is a work-intensive process. We plan lessons, write out rationales and methodologies, petition administration for funding, and spend our own free time figuring the logistics of the software.
So is it actually worth the effort to implement augmented or virtual reality in your classroom?
Most research suggests that it is.
In one of the most comprehensive literature reviews on augmented reality for classroom use, researchers conclude: “It is clear that AR can potentially support learning and teaching.” While they point out some difficulties with AR in the classroom like usability or crowded classrooms, they agree that these issues are “relatively minor and that they should not prohibit the use of AR” in the classroom. They also agree that as AR tech advances, these kinks will continue to disappear.
Another study in Education Media International argues that AR can help “reduce cognitive overload” and “help students develop higher-order thinking capabilities.” They even predict that AR is “poised to dramatically transform Education as we know it.”
Research on virtual reality for classroom use reaches a lot of the same conclusions.
An impressively large lit review of virtual reality in education suggests that VR has “substantial benefits” and promising implications for student motivation. The authors even point to VR’s potential for helping autistic students both in academic and social situations.
Notably, lit reviews like these don’t cherry-pick data. They also take into account studies that have negative findings of educational AR and VR. But even with these more cautionary data, the existing body of research is far more positive than negative about AR and VR’s potential as a classroom tool.
All researchers are quick to point out that AR and VR are relatively new additions to classroom learning—meaning we need more time and more studies to know exactly how they will impact education. But most scholars seem to agree that—when used in conjunction with solid pedagogy and qualified teachers—augmented and virtual reality are extremely promising tools for increasing student motivation, engagement, and retention of information
Implementing Augmented and Virtual Reality in Your Classroom
While studies like the ones mentioned above might help convince you to try AR or VR in your classroom, they don’t actually give you any practical suggestions for how to do so. No worries—tutorials, teacher reviews, and suggestions for apps and classroom uses are really easy to find these days.
No matter what you teach, some of the most popular education VR and AR apps work well across most grades and subjects.
HP Reveal (previously Aurasma) lets you scan real-life objects and images with your phone to see “auras” (assigned digital information.) For example, math teachers could print out some challenging problems, attach quick videos of themselves explaining how to solve them and assign them for homework. If students get stuck, their teacher’s help is at their fingertips no matter where they are.
For another creative use for this app, you could try it for student presentations. Have students attach a video of their presentation to a tangible visual aid. Then, on presentation days, have kids set up their visual aids around the room and explore each other’s presentations with their phones.
Apps like this are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the ways AR and VR can transform your classroom and your students’ learning experience.
And if you’re worried that AR and VR are financially out of reach for your school, you might be surprised. While that may have been true before, things have changed. Now that smartphones are ubiquitous, you and your students probably already have the most important piece of technology you need to experience augmented and virtual realities. From there, the next step is usually downloading an AR/VR app—many of which are free or relatively low-cost. Even the headsets necessary for virtual reality are extremely affordable now, some coming in at less than $9.00
With a growing body of research that supports the use of AR and VR in education and the ever-increasing affordability and accessibility of this technology, I can’t help but think we’re on the verge of seeing a huge shift in education. And unlike Pokémon Go, this trend shows no signs of fading away.
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Author bio: Alaina Gay is a former high school English teacher, college composition instructor, and Assistant Writing Center Director. These days, she runs her freelance writing business, specializing in content for edtech companies.
You can find her at housewolfwriting.com or via Twitter and LinkedIn.