The world of education is slowly being taken up by the storm called immersive-reality technology, be it as a tool to train new teachers or to add excitement to learning at the level of students. Virtual reality is a digital environment that is interactive, on the other hand, augmented reality is when digital images are projected against a viewer’s actual surroundings. Mixed reality is a combination of both VR and AR.
VR is already being tried by many schools so as to offer a new and engaging way of teaching and learning. AR has not been adopted in the education space to that extent but is very successful in areas such as construction and in museums. However, the technology that is used in these environments can be easily leveraged by universities and schools.
MR is the term that has been developed by Microsoft for its ‘mixed reality’ headset called the Hololens. The Hololens functions quite like AR and has been used popularly in construction and architecture, and is also used for higher learning, for example, to teach medical students about human anatomy.
According to Lenovo’s research, 94 percent of teachers in the UK is of the opinion that VR would have a positive impact on classroom teaching, while almost 50 percent teachers estimate that VR will be commonly applied in schools in the coming five years. The greatest hindrance to adopting these technologies in schools is the cost associated with them. Mobile VR such as Samsung Gear VR and Google Cardboard are cheap alternatives to complete VR units, however, the VR apps available are quite limited.
In theory, augmented reality gives the best learning experience that provides a relatively cost-effective alternative for schools to offer classwork that works well with AR apps, making content come to life in the classroom.
Mixed reality products such as Microsoft’s HoloLens have great potential in education, with the tech giant promoting benefits for medicine and architecture training. However, since Microsoft has only two options, the developer HoloLens at £2,719 and the enterprise model at £4,529, educational institutions are likely to completely write it off.
Virtual Reality systems that are computer powered are very costly. The HTC Vive costs about £600 per unit, and requires a powerful PC to support it, which is around £1000. Slightly less expensive is the Oculus Rift headset which is for about £400, but it too requires a powerful computer to make it run.
How could VR be used in education?
Increased student engagement, faster learning and improved quality of education are some of the benefits of virtual reality in education.
Furthermore, experts say that VR may be able to reduce disruptions in the classroom caused by children with behavioral difficulties.
An example of how VR can be used in the classroom is that, in a history lesson, students could be transported to Ancient Egypt to see how the Egyptians lived and to get an in-depth understanding of the early Egyptian civilization.
The advantages of VR are not limited to primary and secondary education; higher education to stands to benefit from VR. For example, medical students at a university level could understand the minute details of a surgery by going inside the human body to completely understand how things work just from a simulation of a real-life medical situation.
Other than medicine, courses at university level such as architecture and others that require technical drawings would certainly benefit from VR. Architecture students will get to see in real time whether their designs work or not, what needs to be changed and how it would look in the real world.
How could AR be used in education?
Lessons involving augmented reality have a certain textbook that AR would enable, resulting in the images ‘popping out’ thus making the textbook become an interactive lesson.
If schools provide tablets to students, or if students carry their own smartphones, they could be held over images in books, and thereby provide an AR ‘video’ to students.
Biology students, for example, can place their device over their textbook while studying the human circulatory system and see in detail how the heart pumps blood around the body. This is likely to have a positive impact on students’ concentration levels and enthusiasm.
The implementation of VR, AR and MR always raise the question of cost, as this is one of the most important metrics for schools. When it comes to AR, once materials (textbooks, task sheets and more) have been set up and apps and content are made, then AR implementation is a rather cheap option for students with smartphones or schools that provide tablets.
It is possible that a subscription AR package can be used by schools to obtain curriculum-based AR apps. Learning will benefit greatly from this technological advancement.
How could MR be used in education?
Similar to AR, mixed reality can be used to train construction workers, medical staff and even town planners.
In MR a virtual image or video is projected on a real-world scenario making it ideal for university-level students who are studying subjects that require technical accuracy and exceptional details.
For example, civil engineers need to find pressure spots and weaknesses in the designs of bridges. Another example is that of a student who is studying the brain function and needs to see the effect on the brain if it is put under immense stress.
In 2016, Microsoft formed a partnership with educational materials firm Pearson so as to create educational applications and MR learning tools for HoloLens. The use of these tools will be across a broad range of areas such as engineering, construction, and nursing, as well as with secondary schools, colleges, and universities.
In terms of price and set up, VR seems the most accessible. However, the ‘experience’ is quite limited by the apps on the market as well as by the level of student interaction that is provided by mobile VR. On the other hand, MR and AR might be the next step for schools that are early-adopters.