Taking a more contrary point of view, I see a number of problems with the Chinese VR study we have been covering for the past month:
- I am concerned any time I see for-profit sponsors/authors of a research project. (Both sponsors of this study are commercial interests.) Although the findings are helpful, it is clear to me that this study was designed to promote the expanded use of VR learning, not merely understand it. Little chunks of uncensored hyperbole spread throughout the study leave me with this sense.
- The study has an extremely low sample size, or low n, ensuring that the findings cannot actually be as conclusive as suggested.
- The low sample size, along with the small number of HTC Vive units employed brings into question the scalability of implementing this technology in actual school settings, where student numbers are higher, and equipment costs would clearly skyrocket.
- The focus on retention is troubling. This is low-lying fruit in the minds of educators. We want deeper learning, critical thinking, analysis, and synthesis. Two-week retention tests also seem contrived. Why not a month or two months?
- The type of testing that was administered remains unstated. What kind was it? Multiple choice testing? Essay writing? Performance testing? Previous research in this field suggests that students using visualization technologies perform better on essay-type tests (requiring higher-order thinking) than they do on multiple choice tests (requiring factual regurgitation).
- The refrain throughout the study is that VR works well in education and produces positive academic results because it is FUN. Is that notion the best this research can offer as an explanation for the value of this technology? I think not. Game research suggests that challenge, competition, and noble failure are more motivating to us than fun; recent neuroscience or brain research might point to curiosity, storytelling (narrative), relevance, vividness, and novelty as the primary motivators working in and through VR technology.
For me, all types of research matter… I prefer to read and report on all of it. Each study, survey, action research effort, or anecdotal collection provides us with the clues, contacts, and stepping stones to learn more. Each enables us to grow wiser, gather fresh insight, and seize upon new perspective. So there you have it. As I pondered this research study, I remembered the Hindi proverb: “Even a drowning man catches a straw.” Yes, the results of this study are all “good to know.” They advance our knowledge another step or two forward.