Virtual Reality (VR) has been on the periphery of our lives for decades but it’s only in the last few months that it has become a really attainable technology.
VR headsets were a ‘must have’ Christmas gift in 2016 thanks to falling prices and initiatives by organisations such as The New York Times, which issued over a million cardboard viewers to support the launch of its VR content, have made it more accessible than ever.
At the heart of virtual reality is the power of shared ‘first hand’ experience and it has opened up a whole world of possibility for educators. As an organisation focused on creating learning environments that foster better educational outcomes, we regularly talk about the importance of space in supporting how and where we learn. VR has a clear role to play in 360 degree teaching and the potential to offer something immersive and engaging – extending the learning arena beyond bricks and mortar and students’ imaginations to something completely experiential.
This technology will allow students to ‘take’ trips to see the most far flung and wondrous parts of the world, recreate historical events, see the inner workings of the human heart and experience places, processes and emotions first hand. Some of its more immediate uses in education have related to subjects such as biology and construction, where students can touch and manipulate 3D objects and interact with each other to aid learning.
But while this technology can turn a Cheshire classroom into the Mexican Inca trail, what does it demand of the spaces it will be used in?
Put simply the use of technologies such as VR requires a 360-degree learning environment. Blank canvas teaching spaces offer the room to move, collaborate and learn as a group as well as individuals. Students need to be free to move and ‘experience’ these technologies first hand. Furniture that can be reconfigured, be that moved or folded away, help to make teaching rooms flexible and fit for purpose. These spaces need to be quickly adaptable so that teachers and students can switch between countless different learning styles – going from a VR tour to group discussions, lone working or presentations with ease.
It’s also about ensuring that a fully comprehensive audio visual system is at the heart of the design solution so that students can share their VR experiences, use their own devices for project work as well as access and share content through projectors and intuitive casting software. In order to develop immersive experiences, whether that’s through VR or other media, classrooms need to give special consideration to sound and acoustics, lighting and now, sight and touch too.
VR presents clear and within-reach opportunities for educators and students to make concepts once consigned to the pages of textbooks a reality they can touch and experience for themselves. The number of companies developing education specific VR applications is testament to the breadth of possibility here. VR stands to be transformative in many aspects of our lives but it is sure to play a significant role in the continued evolution of pedagogical styles and classroom design.