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Will Virtual Reality change education? Does it even have a place in education?

Will Virtual Reality change education? Does it even have a place in education? Last week, Virtual Reality in Education was the topic at LaunchCLT (formally LaunchLKN), and I was happy to be part of this conversation. LaunchCLT is a group of lifelong learners, entrepreneurs, and creators - Chris and Jon Boggiano, parents in our community, are founders of this organization; I highly recommend you ask them more about it!

To start, Virtual Reality will be making its way into education. It's not a matter of if but when. So it is time to think about this now, so the use of VR is deliberate, intentional, and purposeful. With this in mind, I believe two filters are necessary when considering this for the K-12 classroom.  

  1. The student's developmental stage and ability to use this as a learning tool purposefully. 

  2. Is the content of the VR experience connected to a bigger picture in authentic ways?  

Is VR developmentally appropriate for younger students in the learning environment? From a child development standpoint, children up to at least age 11 are still learning about and making sense of their world through the concrete. They are manipulating, experimenting, and discovering the world around them. As educators, our job is to meet them right where they are - and introduce more abstract thinking when it is developmentally appropriate. This has nothing to do with their brilliance but with their development. From this perspective, those in the elementary years are not developmentally ready to access VR as a tool for learning. So VR in the elementary years is a source of entertainment at best. 

At the green school, our children do not regularly use a computer until 4th grade, and that is by design. Up until this point, they are working with masterfully designed manipulatives that are developmentally appropriate - and give them solid foundations in language arts, math, science, history, and geography. They are busy creating, tinkering, and collaborating with others with real tools, in real-time, with real-world issues.

Now, let's look at the next filter. Can the content of the VR experience be connected to a bigger picture in authentic ways? This requires a masterful facilitator or teacher - or VR can become a shiny distraction or entertainment which does not have a place in the classroom. 

Remember, at this point, we have already filtered out most of K-12. So, for the most part, we are left with those students in high school. When I was teaching Biology at the high school level, the tool of VR would have been a purposeful addition to content being presented in class and applied in labs. In this situation, the students are developmentally ready for this tool and have the ability to use the tool purposefully. 

We know that real innovation comes from fostering a child's innate curiosity and creativity - when this love of learning is fostered in the early years through tinkering, exploring, and creating in the real world, as adults, they will have the creative capacity to create virtual words we never dreamed of and skilled ways to use this technology - but exploration in the "real world" must happen first.  

So back to our question, Is there a place for VR in education? 

Possibly, if vetted through the two filters, I propose:

  1. The developmental stage of the student and their ability to use this tool purposefully 

  2. Is the content of the VR experience connected to a bigger picture in authentic ways?  

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