We Don’t Want a Virtual Reality Learning Program

You know what makes the internet awesome? You get to explore it. You get to use it for your own learning, making, communicating, collaborating, researching, and thinking purposes.

When I was 12 years old logging onto Prodigy or AOL, there was no program. There were websites, mail, and places to go; but it was my “world wide web” to navigate and search and play.

While we’ve seen our fair share of “web-based learning programs” pop up online (remember they all used to be on CDs) the web has still managed to stay open and free for the most part. To that end, it has allowed, supported, and even praised the mantra of “make it yours” and use it with individual and group purpose.

Enter virtual reality.

In my limited experiences with VR (virtual reality), it has shown to have amazing promise in a few key areas.

First, it’s ability to layer on top of the web a virtual infrastructure and world to explore is the most exciting. This extension of the internet is what people like Kevin Kelley are calling the moment the internet grew up. He says, “Virtual reality is a fake world that feels absolutely authentic.”

Second, VR promises to engage, at least at the outset. Students and teachers immersed in a virtual world will most likely trigger the release of dopamine, much like students do now while playing a video game or receiving a text, or like on their Instagram photo. We have an entire generation of students are used to technology delivering dopamine, and they have that technology often in their pockets at school. VR is a way to make that connection in some settings.

However, despite the excitement I have around VR, the real problem is how it is going to be marketed by companies, institutions, and education tech startups.

We don't want a VR learning program

Let me make this clear: We don’t want a virtual reality learning program.

Don’t package a program for VR. Don’t make a VR curriculum. Don’t trivialize VR into something that can be sold at a per student price.

If Virtual Reality is going to have any impact on learning, then it needs to be open, organic, free, and expanding…just like the web.

I can’t wait to see how VR transforms our world and gives us new learning experiences and avenues for collaboration, creativity, and thinking. But please don’t ruin it from the outset by trying to package a technology that is meant to expand our experiences. Let education use it like we’ve used the web, and I know the possibilities for learning can be endless.

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  • https://www.google.com/streetview/ is a great place to explore 360 views of the Gallery of places on any device that students already have.

  • Marie says:

    Tim Berners-Lee, arguably the creator of the World Wide Web, http://webfoundation.org/about/vision/history-of-the-web/, (different from the Internet) wrote:

    One of the things I like about the computer that I use is that I can write a program on it or I can download a program on to it and run it. That’s kind of important to me, and that’s also kind of important to the whole future of the internet… obviously a closed platform is a serious brake on innovation. Tim Berners-Lee

    Maintaining the free and open web is a so important to the continuing expansion of knowledge, even our intellectual freedom.

    • AJ Juliani says:

      Love this quote Marie. It is kind of important to our future to keep this perspective, and Tim was forward enough in his thinking to see this impacting his time and future debates around the “open” web.

  • I’ve been gathering education related VR content on my page here: bit.ly/VRinEDU

    So would you consider Nearpod and it’s VR content to fall into your category of VR Learning Programs that you don’t want? Or Thinglink’s new VR Editor? I see a lot of value in both as creation tools for the classroom. But alas, nothing in life ever is free.

    • AJ Juliani says:

      Thanks for sharing that link Michael. Great resource for educators. When you look at what Nearpod is doing it seems like a program, not a moldable, shapeable space for kids to learn in and explore.

      Also they say on their site: “While new technologies are typically associated with high costs, Nearpod VR only requires an internet connection and a device. That’s it. Our headsets, which come for free when a school buys a Nearpod premium edition, are a great way to enhance a VR experience, but are not necessary to experience Nearpod VR.”

      The district license costs money. Also, when you click on the VR experiences, they each have a price tag: https://nearpod.com/s/virtual-field-trips-F684

      Not sure where the free part comes in.

      • But is it realistic to expect everything in Education to be free? I don’t think so. Yes, there are some companies out there attempting to monopolize the education market and are branding themselves around Common Core, etc. yet they produce poor quality products. But there are also companies trying to make a different in education and we can’t expect them to do it for free. Business in business, wether it’s in education, or other markets. I would prefer to pay a premium for high quality products in my classroom. And as a teacher and a technology integration specialist, part of my job is researching, testing, and previewing these products to make sound decisions about the things we purchase for my school. Virtual Reality is quickly becoming a part of that market. But there is still A LOT of free VR content out there, its just very difficult to sort and filter through all of it.

        • AJ Juliani says:

          No, don’t get me wrong. I never said everything in education should be free. I’m quite opposed to that. I wrote an entire piece on the benefits of paying for educational resources/materials and sites like TPT.

          However, when it comes to VR, I believe we will only see a true impact when it is open and accessible much like the web. When it is a layer on top of the web. These programs that are coming out now are akin to “Oregon Trail” – it’s a fun and “engaging” way to get kids/teachers interested in VR…but it’s not changing anything.

          I don’t think we are there yet, but I can’t wait to see VR evolve past the “oregon trail” stage and towards the WWW stage!

          • Yeah, I definitely agree. We are still very early in the development stage of VR in education with just a few companies out there that are really committing themselves at different levels (i.e. Google Expeditions, Nearpod, Thinglink VR).

  • Garry Joseph says:

    I think layering content on top of the real world is more accurately described as augmented reality, and still more years away. (I mean the headsets, not stuff like Aurasma). Decent VR, however, is here now, it’s just a bit pricey. I have an Oculus Rift CV1 and while the content is a bit scarce, it does stir up student imaginations. Experiences like Apollo 11, Inside the Body VR, and Ocean Rift and some of the short films hint at educational VR experiences coming up. We do need open access, particularly for the teacher and student created VR content, which should be within our reach soon with availability of 360 cameras. We have a new story telling and design tool platform available now! Imagine a culture where people can meet in VR to share creations like their dream house or landscape architecture, tweaking it with community feedback until it reaches a critical mass to change our built world. Contrary to some people’s fears of VR serving as a pointless escape from the real world, quite the opposite could happen: helping us consciously design and build physical spaces that have been vetted by real people in VR. I think educators can lead the way towards responsible and visionary applications of this new technology.

  • Kate Lee says:

    Thank you for a timely article regarding educational use of VR. For our school’s undergraduate students, the academic possibilities are infinite – engineering students building virtual sustainable housing, developmental biology students conducting virtual zebrafish experiments, or digital art students building virtual walk-through interactive exhibits. The ‘build it and they will come’ philosophy does encourage exploration into worlds often unseen in ‘real life’ but I think inspiring faculty to use this tool needs to start with VR exemplars already created and being successfully deployed in higher education. It’s a three step initiation process – here is what your colleague has done with the tool, here is what is technically possible, now let’s brainstorm ideas for how you might implement this tool into your curriculum and discuss what resources are available for you to use.”

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