With the development of sophisticated computer hardware and software and their ever-decreasing costs, virtual reality is poised to be the next big tool to drive instruction in the K-12 classroom. This review will look specifically look at the Career and Technical Education classroom and at the different ways virtual environments can be created to allow students to experience real-world job sites virtually. Furthermore, this paper will delve into the benefits for implementing VR in the CTE classroom and what is required to make that implementation successful.
Imagine being able to take your students down to the engine room of a ship, or fifty stories up to experience the construction site of a skyscraper. Just like traditional core subject teachers, Career and Technical Education instructors are constantly on the lookout for opportunities to bring real-world experiences to students so that those students can see—first-hand—the work environments of the occupations that their career pathway courses will one day lead to. Historically, this is done by taking students on field trips where they have the opportunity to tour a place of work, such as a welding or fabrication shop, a laboratory, a factory, or an automotive facility. While there is no substitute for bringing students on location to a job site, technology exists that could augment student site visits and eliminate the logistical obstacles that often prevent students from visiting many work sites. This literature review will provide definitions and distinctions for and between 360-degree video, virtual reality (VR), and augmented reality (AR). This review also aims to examine the different types of equipment necessary to produce and engage in these technology experiences, the innovative ways these technologies are being implemented in the K-16 classroom, and, most importantly, the benefits to students and instructors for utilizing these technologies.
360-Degree Video, Augmented Reality, and Virtual Reality: Definitions, Descriptions, and Differences
All three technologies: 360-video, AR and VR have useful applications in the classroom, first let us understand the differences between the three.
360-degree video involves capturing footage from all directions through the use of an omni-directional camera. The footage is stitched together either by the camera or using a software application. Oley (2017) notes that this technology is “rooted in panoramic photography of the early 1850s.” Films shot in 360 degrees, allow viewers to click on the video and move their mouse around to observe different perspectives. YouTube and Facebook allow users to upload and view 360-degree videos on their platforms (Olney, 2017). Not to confuse matters, but Olney (2017) points out that 360-degree videos can be shot in 2-D or 3-D. 2-D has one feed being displayed to both eyes, while 3-D (stereoscopic) has an individual video feed for both eyes, which provides the sense of depth.
One only needs to look to the popularity of Pokemon Go or watch an NFL football game to understand how ubiquitous augmented reality (AR) has become in our everyday lives. (That yellow line indicating the line of scrimmage on your television set is an example of AR). Think Mobiles website defines AR as “an enhanced version of reality where live direct or indirect views of physical real-world environments are augmented with superimposed computer-generated images over a user’s view of the real-world, thus enhancing one’s current perception of reality.” In other words, with AR, both the real world and a virtual world coexist harmoniously.
Virtual Reality (VR) takes AR a step further and completely immerses a person in a total virtual world. The Virtual Reality Society (2017) describes VR as: “a three-dimensional, computer generated environment which can be explored and interacted with by a person. That person becomes part of this virtual world and whilst there, is able to manipulate objects or perform a series of actions.”
Now that we have a general understanding of these different types of environments, let us examine how they can be used in an educational setting.
Benefits of Incorporating VR into the Classroom (Why?)
Mulvahill (2017) provided some quotes form her students that captures their excitement about using VR in her classroom.
- “It was really cool because it felt like you were there… I didn’t have to come up with a picture in my mind because I was seeing what it was actually like.”
- “I like it a lot because it is fun to be able to be IN what we are learning about.”
- “It was fun to learn because it let us use our electronics.”
That is a sample of a few students’ perceptions. “The market for virtual reality applications is growing at a rapid pace and is expected to double in the next five years” (Bolkan, 2017). As the cost of VR hardware drops—leading schools to have more access to technology—there is increased interest in VR as an educational tool, but will VR gain a foothold in the education sector, and what, if any, are the benefits to using this technology in the classroom?
Expense is one factor that the use of VR could potentially alleviate. “You can’t fly your whole school to Machu Picchu” (Johnson, 2017). Similarly, while not as expensive as a trip to South America, just the expense of commissioning several school buses to drive students across town to a workplace of interest to CTE students could get expensive. Add to that expense the cost of students missing valuable instruction time in their other core classes, and one realizes quite quickly how costly field trips can be.
As teachers, we also do not want to expose children to dangerous environments. You wouldn’t want students to learn how to operate a port crane by doing it the first time in reality. Never mind the fact that practicing first in VR could save lives and prevent damage to property, it allows students to see if such an activity is something they have an aptitude for and want to pursue.
Finally, VR allows one to do the impossible. “you can’t change skin color, but if our avatar has a different skin color or gender when you look down, this will affect your implicit biases for weeks to come.” (Johnson, 2017). VR allows teachers and students to do things in the classroom that are impossible in the real world.
Implementation of VR in the Classroom
Since Ivan Sutherland and his student, Bob Sproull, created the first head-mounted display in 1968, VR has come a long way, but it has yet to be widely adopted. Only 21% of households have a headset and this percentage is far lower for classrooms (Higgin, 2018). Given this statistic, VR is at the very early stages of educational implementation. When contemplating introducing VR into your classroom, it is good to first have an understanding of your different options:
One option is to use a high-end headset like the HTC Vive or the Oculus Rift, Facebook’s VR headset, have been hitting price points around $400 (Steinbach, 2018). These headsets require one to be connected to a computer that is configured for VR. This type of model will provide users with a more true-to-life experience. Given the ubiquity of smartphones today—essentially every student has one—teachers and technology integration specialists can also consider using headsets that accommodate a smartphone. In this type of setup, the phone is the processing hub, eliminating the need to connect to a computer. The experience is not quite as seamless, but it is still very good considering the drastically reduced price. Examples of headsets that use a smartphone are Samsung Gear. Particularly impressive is the Merge 360 VR Goggles. According to their website, the Merge 360 headset is made from a soft, pliable material that is comfortable, withstands a lot of use, easy to clean, and can be shared with multiple users. All these qualities are necessary in a classroom unit. These qualities make them ideal for a classroom setting. The very inexpensive Google Cardboard, is a solution that, at the $10 price point, fits almost every school budget. Depending on what headset you go with, the quality of the VR experience varies, naturally, but the affordability has opened the door for experimentation and introducing the technology to a wider audience (Steinbach, 2018). To compliment the explosion of VR devices, Google expanded its Expeditions Pioneer Program in 2016. This program was the result of a hackathon in Google’s education department. Jen Holland, then a product manager at Google Apps for Education, drew on existing Google assets—the recently launched Cardboard, some teaching apps in development, and a huge archive of 3D maps and photographs. She combined the three to make interactive virtual reality lessons, which she calls “experiences” (Hansman, 2016).
While appreciating the strides VR has made as an entertainment and educational tool, heretofore, we have only discussed the consumption of VR content in the classroom. It is unlikely that content providers will ever completely satisfy educators’ need for specific subject area content. A recent study was conducted by Foundry 10 in which it analyzed student’s perception of VR usage in their learning. The study also sought to learn in which subjects students found the use of VR to be the most useful. The report indicated that 44% of students were inclined to use VR in science; 38% in history; 12% in English and 3% in math education (Hentsch 2018).
An advantage to using 3D-creation tools is that it allows the student to do more than consume virtual reality; it allows the student to become the creator of his/her own VR content (Hentsch 2018). Platforms like CoSpaces Edu allow students to create and explore VR and AR worlds. Equipped with some coding knowledge, students can animate their worlds or use their own 360-degree photographs to create their environments. By using approachable tools such as CoSpaces Edu, students now have the power to create any environment of their choosing. This is an exciting prospect for the realm of CTE education because, currently, not much content exists that is applicable to CTE.
No one would argue that a digital revolution is changing the way we engage students in school. The tools that teachers can now access make it much easier to implement VR. More than ever, schools are doing everything they can to make their students “future-ready.” By facilitating access to virtual reality in the classroom and allowing students to experiment with the VR tools, they will be much more prepared for the digital world in which they will inhabit and launch a career (Hentsch 2018).
Ausburn, L. (2019). “Spheres of Reality”: A Conceptualization of Desktop Virtual Environments in Career and Technical Education and an Implementation Training Model Virtual Environments in CTE and Industry.
Billinghurst, M. (2002, December). Augmented Reality in Education. Retrieved from https://s3.amazonaws.com/academia.edu.documents/4810740/ar_edu.pdf?AWSAccessKeyId=AKIAIWOWYYGZ2Y53UL3A&Expires=1557702994&Signature=YKC7p8XwCM8VrTiqCv%2F4RbdNYPY%3D&response-content-disposition=inline%3B%20filename%3DAugmented_reality_in_education.pdf
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