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10 Practical Uses of VR in the Classroom

10 Practical Uses of VR in the Classroom

By Bob Hand

For many teachers, the idea of implementing virtual reality (VR) into the curriculum seems like a far-fetched notion. The technology seems too expensive, too primitive, or too impractical to fit into a typical class period.

However, recent years have seen rapid advancements in the technology, resulting in affordable and advanced hardware and software that show serious potential. There are even a number of free VR applications for educators.

If your school district is an early adopter of VR technology, you might understand this frustration. What are the practical applications of VR in the classroom? Where should you begin? Here are 10 uses for the technology that you should explore:

1. Understand the World (and Beyond)

When it comes to teaching the basics of science—including the structure of the life, the origins of natural phenomena, and our place in the universe—nothing is as immersive as VR.

Simulations, visual representations of data, and interactive games can be used as tools to help students understand everything from the building blocks of life to the workings of our solar system. Such applications let kinesthetic learners get hands-on with subjects that are usually discussed in abstract terms.

Lab simulations, like those offered by Labster, even allow students to participate in independent investigations of subject material. This is a surprisingly affordable approach to science education; indeed, it could be argued that the virtual “equipment” on offer in these simulations alone can justify the cost of VR technology.

2. Visualize Mathematics

Mathematical knowledge is integral to solving many real-world problems. Nevertheless, students often feel like it has no practical application in their day-to-day lives. VR can bridge that gap by presenting them with immersive visualizations of math problems.

For example, one of the biggest hurdles for young learners is understanding the basics of algebra. The abstract nature of the subject can make it difficult for some students to progress. In VR, however, algebraic problems can be represented through virtual objects.

Furthermore, students who lack the spatial abilities to visualize a problem—such as those presented in Geometry or Trigonometry—can benefit from well-designed VR tutorials and activities. Because virtual environments are, by their nature, three-dimensional, they permit learners to interact with mathematical problems in an unprecedented way. Such experiences give them the mental framework to understand future problems, effectively improving their spatial abilities.

In both of these examples, VR can improve a student’s ability to think logically. By being presented with virtual representations of mathematical problems, pupils can learn to visualize solutions independently.

3. Take Virtual Field Trips

A virtual field trip consists of a guided tour of distant places. Whether you want to take your class to explore distant lands, other cultures, or unique geographical landmarks, there are plenty of options. When paired with effective instruction, students should be able to acquire the same benefits as though they actually visited that location.

A big benefit to using virtual field trips is, simply put, the enthusiasm it can generate. When discussing Google Expeditions, Google’s foray into virtual reality tours, Product Manager Ben Schrom notes that virtual reality can “(m)ake at least bite-sized moments of experiential learning a much, much more regular occurrence at schools.”

Virtual field trips may not drastically change instruction, but they can create “impressionable learning moments.” Such trips can generate a great deal of enthusiasm for subject material and encourage pupils to get invested in their learning. 

More: 10 Virtual Field Trips to Explore the World

4. Take a Trip Back in History

Just as VR can transport users across the world, it can also be used to simulate historical events from the past.

For example, if you are currently teaching literature that’s based in the years of the first world war, you may want to give students an idea of what it was like to live during the years of the first World War. Trench Experience VR is a free application that gives users an intimate look into the life of those who fought during WWI.

In a similar vein, the technology can be used to take “tours” of museums for further context, whether it be historical exhibits or other works of art from the era—and notable institutions have embraced it. Never before have learners been able to tour the Guggenheim, the Smithsonian, and the Louvre with such ease.

Learn more about the history applications of virtual field trips in 5 Virtual Field Trips to Take With Your Social Studies Class.

5. Use Creative Expression and Assessment

Any teacher who has recently assigned (yet another) poster presentation assignment knows how yawn-inducing such a task can be for the average student. Learners need new ways to express themselves and VR opens many avenues for creative expression.

If you want an idea of how the technology can open new doors for artistically inclined students, look at what can be produced by Google-created VR tools like Tilt Brush and Blocks. Such creations can be used to demonstrate learning and express new ideas.

For teachers who are looking for a more structured experience, there are other, more elaborate, tools for creating presentations as well. Applications like CoSpaces allow users to create three-dimensional worlds, populate them with premade or custom models, and guide peers through their creation. This can be an exciting way for learners to demonstrate what they’ve learned and generate constructive class discussions. 

More: 15 Ideas to Google-Fy Student Projects

6. A New Way to Explore Literature

VR experiences give teachers new ways to present specific works of literature, as well as related topics, to students of all grade levels.

Virtual environments can be shaped to recreate key scenes from a work of fiction; the setting of a novel can be virtually simulated to give learners historical context; and entire works of fiction can be recreated as an interactive gaming experience.

In each of these examples, VR can launch the class into an in-depth discussion about class material. Using creative tools like those discussed above, students can create their own presentations in this vein and demonstrate their understanding.

When used in collaboration with a reading accountability platform, like Whooo’s Reading, VR can help students reach a deeper understanding of the broader implications of a work of literature.

7. Virtual Collaboration

Collaboration is an absolute necessity in K-12 education; it helps educators and learners exchange information, build a common understanding and interpretation of subject material, and explore new ideas.

While strapping a headset on may seem like an isolating experience—even when surrounded by classmates—there are many tools for collaboration on VR platforms to assist in these efforts, several of which are discussed by Venturebeat in an article about the future of VR collaboration.

There are several benefits to VR conferencing and collaboration. Conferencing programs let users visualize data and express ideas in a unique way. Furthermore, applications on such platforms can convey body language, facial expressions, and other non-verbal cues through virtual avatars.

As VR applications become more sophisticated, this approach will become a powerful tool for collaboration.

8. Improve Distance Learning

Speaking of collaboration, VR can open many doors for remote students. Being an online student can be difficult due to a lack of personal contact with peers and instructors, and missing several days of school can lead to a serious struggle to catch up.

In either case, VR collaboration can help. Using conferencing applications like those listed above, teachers are able to deliver lectures and interact with students in a virtual environment. The immediacy of VR lets learners receive quick feedback, develop interpersonal skills, and collaborate with others in real time.

Even institutions of higher education are realizing the potential of VR, and many are offering entire courses using the technology. By utilizing VR in K-12 classrooms, we are effectively preparing students for future remote learning opportunities.

9. Assist Students With Disabilities

VR can serve as an assistive technology for students with learning disabilities due to its potential to minimize the effects of a disability and offer another means in which to accomplish tasks. Among the potential uses of VR are:

  • It can provide a virtual environment in which students can safely practice real-world skills.
  • Learners may take virtual field trips to places they would not ordinarily be able to visit in their communities.
  • Students with sensory disorders can benefit from virtual environments that present less stimuli which may detract from learning.

VR is also a tool for inclusion; the collaborative components of VR can also help students with disabilities. Learners who may ordinarily be isolated from peers can interact with them virtually. This social interaction can result in improved self-esteem and educational outcomes.

More: 5 New Tech Tools for Students With Learning Difficulties

10. Prepare Students for Future Careers

Using VR, students can explore new career prospects. VR simulations can mirror real-life scenarios, giving users the opportunity to learn how to perform specific tasks in a risk-free environment.

While VR technology is only beginning to see widespread use, there are already a wide range of simulations available, ranging from recreations of specific medical procedures to virtual football training. Without the potential for causing harm to oneself or others, an individual is able to learn the ropes without fear of consequence.

This is especially important for STEM careers, where the country faces a considerable skills gap. Perhaps the most notable shortage in these fields is cybersecurity.

Major data breaches have become a staple of the daily news cycle. There aren’t enough experts in the field to keep companies and individuals in the U.S. secure, and even K-12 school networks are common targets of cyberattacks. Analysts predict that VR simulations will bolster interest in cybersecurity, thereby reducing the current skills gap.

Try VR In Your Classroom

These are some of the practical applications of VR in K-12 classrooms. Whether you are reticent to employ it or are eager to convince your school district to become an adopter, these uses should spark some inspiration.

As it becomes more widely adopted, new applications and hardware will further expand these horizons. Stay aware of these advancements and take full advantage of this potentially revolutionary innovation. If you’re interested in bringing VR into your classroom, check out another helpful VR guide for the classroom.

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10 Practical Uses of VR in the Classroom

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