One field where virtual reality and augmented reality hold an enormous amount of potential is in educational technology (EdTech). There are obvious benefits to leveraging these new innovations in keeping students engaged and interested, as well as in developing amazing new types of lesson content. A virtual reality classroom allows kids to fly through space to witness the formation of stars, shrink down to inspect the workings of the human body up close, and do everything in between.
These are just two examples of what virtual reality in the classroom can do. The possibilities are endless, limited only by the imaginations of content creators. The EdTech industry is already well aware of what VR might bring to the education equation, as evidenced by the rapid spending already occurring in the space.
A case in point is Liberty County Schools in Hinesville, GA. A relatively small public school district of 10,000 students, Liberty has recently spent close to $500,000 on a “Virtual Instruction Program” powered by equipment and VR classroom apps from developer zSpace. According to industry analysts at Digi-Capital, zSpace has achieved 300% revenue growth year over year since 2013.
Success breeds competition, and so zSpace isn’t the only VR development firm hoping to answer the question, “How can schools use virtual reality?” There are numerous products and solutions already released, and more upcoming. Here are 7 of our favorites.
1 – Google Expeditions
Google Cardboard is particularly well positioned to explore virtual reality classroom applications. With its ease of use and extremely low price point, it is a wonderful combination of accessibility and financial viability for often cash-strapped public school systems.
Google’s latest foray to bring virtual reality into classrooms is Google Expeditions. Using a tablet, phones, and Cardboard headsets, Google takes students on tours of locations around the world and even into space. The teacher uses the tablet to guide the experience of the students, who can look around freely at the scenery and at superimposed educational content.
2 – Nearpod
Google Expeditions, although well-executed, is not a new idea. Startup firm Nearpod pioneered the use of Google Cardboard virtual reality in the classroom. Leveraging professional narration as well as a Google Expeditions style reliance on a teacher being physically present, some Nearpod experiences are perhaps better suited as homework or extracurricular material. These are areas where Google Expeditions is weaker, and both solutions are enjoying a great deal of press coverage and adoption by classrooms.
3 – EON Reality
One of the largest virtual reality education firms is EON Reality. Developing VR classroom apps ranging from smartphone software to incredible “VR Cave” style multi-user experiences, EON is making great strides in both hardware and software development with their suite of products.
EON’s latest VR development is an innovative blend between virtual reality and augmented reality. Dubbed EON Experience AVR for “augmented virtual reality”, the product incorporates augmented reality glasses, virtual telepresence, and more traditional mobile-based head-mounted displays to provide a complete lesson plan for the 21st century.
4 – Unimersiv
High-end consumer gear like the Oculus Rift and HTC Vive have not yet received as much attention in the virtual reality classroom space as mobile-based solutions like Google Cardboard. However, one VR development firm that has wholeheartedly embraced the Oculus solution is enjoying great success by reliably releasing a new educational experience each month.
Using the Unimersiv app, students can virtually tour Stonehenge, the International Space Station, the Titanic, and the anatomy of the human body. Unlike many other similar solutions, the virtual experiences provided by Unimersiv are wholly computer generated, allowing them to give students complete freedom to explore the space. This is made possible through the use of Oculus Rift advanced head-mounted displays, although the app also features a Samsung GearVR version with reduced functionality.
5 – Labster
One of the most fully-featured virtual reality in classroom applications available is Labster. Using desktop computer interfaces along with Samsung GearVR head-mounted displays, Labster allows students to conduct a wide variety of science experiments using cutting-edge equipment and techniques, all in the virtual world.
Labster takes the Unimersiv free-wheeling approach to the virtual reality classroom to its logical conclusion, allowing students complete freedom to experiment, interact, succeed and fail in the virtual world. The applications for this are myriad, and could easily extend to training for grown scientists as well as its current use in younger classrooms.
Labster features a large number of experiments already, and has continually received new funding in the form of not only investments, but also grants from educational institutions and government agencies. The possibilities of allowing students to “skip to the end”, having fun with laboratory equipment in a safe virtual space, has caught the minds and imaginations of education professionals around the world.
6 – YouVisit
Virtual reality tours producer YouVisit has made their own entry into the VR education space with college tours. The annual migration of incoming college freshmen to tour the campuses of schools and universities is a tradition in the United States, but increasing travel costs and the busy schedules of students and adults alike has made it more and more difficult each yet.
Allowing kids to use their smartphones and a mobile-based head-mounted display to visit as many schools as they like makes sense in today’s economic climate, and YouVisit already has dozens of campuses available. In this way, students entering higher education can narrow down their choices, or simply save on time and travel costs.
7 – VR Classroom Apps for SafetyFinally, thanks to a collaboration between Samsung and the Leicestershire Fire and Rescue Service, students in the UK are learning a very memorable lesson on safe driving. Students approaching driving age are lent Samsung GearVR headsets and taken through a virtual classroom experience showcasing the dangers of operating motor vehicles. Newsweek reports that the experience culminates in a realistic car crash, intended to show students the very real consequences of careless motor vehicle operation.
These types of transitory, single-lesson virtual reality experiences have their place in education. Expensive equipment can be shared by multiple schools if they only need to be used once per student per year, and in many districts, staying under budget is a major selling point. At the same time, leveraging the advanced technology of VR to drive such an important lesson home is an obvious benefit. In matters of safety, even the most budget-conscious school is willing to spend what it takes to protect their students.