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AR and VR: a worthwhile investment?

The two technologies are here to stay, but should schools take the plunge and splash out on them? Emily Marchant discusses...

Posted by Alex Diggins | June 08, 2018 | Primary

Increasing engagement and knowledge retention

One possible reason for investment is that the 'gamification' of lessons can help overcome the stigma attached to ‘doing schoolwork’ which students often experience within their peer group. Enjoying a lesson is less uncool, if that lesson is itself immersive and cool.

Enjoying a lesson is less uncool, if that lesson is itself immersive and cool

VR/AR technology also gives children the opportunity to experience a lesson more viscerally, which can help them stay focused and improve their recall of lesson content. Instead of being told about dinosaurs, pupils can walk alongside them.

Mathematics classes, in particular, can benefit greatly from AR as students can see real-time visualisations of their work. For example, graphs resulting from quadratic equations can be displayed instantly and in 3D.

However, despite these potential advantages, AR/VR technology can often be seen as too costly to implement. If cutting-edge headsets are out of budget, though, there are lots of VR apps available for smartphones or tablets.

Google Expeditions, for instance, is a free app that allows you to lead immersive digital field-trips all over the world. If you’re unable to buy or borrow the smartphones required to run the app, try organising a Google Expeditions visit. A team from Google will bring all the equipment you need and guide your class through using the app. This could be more cost-effective than investing in your own technology that could be superseded quickly.

More hype than help?

Introducing AR/VR technology into schools is not without hurdles though. As well as the upfront cost of investment, research has suggested that there are ethical concerns to overcome.

Recording children, for example, is understandably a cause of concern for some parents — as is the data these devices can collect.

Recording children, for example, is understandably a cause of concern for some parents — as is the data these devices can collect.

There’s also a socio-economic argument against VR in the classroom: only the most well funded schools are able to afford the necessary hardware, which gives them an unfair advantage over schools in less privileged areas. Budget, time constraints, teacher knowledge and technical support are also stumbling blocks to successful adoption and implementation.

Getting teachers on board may be difficult too. Due to its infancy, there’s limited evidence of AR/VR tech’s effectiveness in education compared to other, more established technologies.

VR technology can also create physical barriers, potentially stalling peer-to-peer learning. People learn better together than they do individually. The design of virtual reality headsets means that it’s more difficult to work in groups while wearing them.

A lot of this can be overcome through effective teaching and further research. In fact, the current research consensus is that active learning puts pupils at the centre of lessons. Whether it’s working in a virtual laboratory or witnessing the Apollo 11 take off first-hand, VR improves engagement with subjects in unprecedented ways.

Spending wisely

Some argue that investing in AR/VR technologies for educational purposes is a waste of money and that an over-reliance on computing equipment in schools might even harm results.

Headsets like the Oculus Rift are expensive, and schools need more than one. Even cheaper options, like apps, require expensive phones or tablets to use them.

If your school is in a position to invest, it’s worth implementing strategies to control your level of investment, you can get better value from the money you spend.

Focus on what you want this new technology to achieve, and how will it improve teaching and learning in your school. This will give your purchase focus and you won’t end up spending money on tech that will quickly go unused. If staff need training on the new tech you’re buying, organise that as soon as possible — lack of teacher confidence is one of the main reasons tech gathers dust in the classroom.

Focus on what you want this new technology to achieve, and how will it improve teaching and learning in your school

Thoroughly research the lifespan of the hardware and software that you are buying. Make sure that you can update it so that it remains compatible with new operating systems and technologies.

You can’t always determine how long a product will last, but checking online reviews and getting recommendations will give you an idea. Buying from reputable brands who have a history of releasing regular updates will also help to future-proof your investment.

Consider pairing up with local schools and sharing the equipment. This could reduce the initial cost and give your school a chance to test out the equipment before shelling out.

Looking to the future

Annual global spending on educational technology in schools is valued at £17.5bn and is set to rise to £19bn by 2019.

Over time, the cost of devices will drop making them more accessible to schools. We’ll also see the devices themselves become more advanced. As AR/VR is more widely adopted, we’ll see a shift toward an information society driven by ever increasing connection.

In the future, everything we see could be augmented by technology in some way. In the short term, tailored learning experiences, apps for creating 3D graphics for textbooks and greater integration between AR/VR with the real world are all possibilities.

VR and AR technologies give children access to immersive educational experiences, and support children who may otherwise struggle to engage with learning. While the technology is a big investment for schools who are constantly being told to tighten their belts, it might not be for much longer — and by the time the price has dropped, there should be more studies to make a case for (or against) purchase.

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