As virtual reality grows increasingly bullish today, the key question now becomes “Is it really worth it?" In a past SXSWedu conference session entitled "Will VR really impact student outcomes?” this topic came under long-deserved consideration. The scholarly panelists included Eric Sheninger (Fellow, ICLE or International Center for Leadership in Education); Jennifer Holland, (Senior Program Manager for Expeditions and Classrooms, Google); Elizabeth Lytle, (Director of Education and Product Experience for zSpace); and Rebecca Girard, Science chair, Notre Dame High School, Belmont CA).
Sheninger delicately warned about the current tendency to view “VR as a miracle.” Too much time is spent, he suggests, merely “exposing students” to it. And too much effort is expended on excitedly identifying "what is possible" with this new technology. He suggested we need to look deeper and think more effectively about virtual-reality as it will play out in schools. “We need to take a critical lens about this. We can’t let this become another gimmick,” he argued.
The last two speakers, Holland and Girard, together attempted to answer the key question: "Will VR really impact student outcomes?” They highlighted some of the ‘observed’ benefits for students when using virtual-reality in the classroom:
- deeper questioning
- a better sense of scale
- conducting experiments not possible due to safety, distance, or time constraints
- increased motivation
- learning that is extended outside of the classroom
- better comprehension of concepts
Although these observed benefits represent only low-lying fruit, and are typical to most informal studies and industry-sponsored case studies, they still remain informative. The most interesting refrain coming from students and teachers is the notion of “deeper questioning”, a theme we have heard echoed for the last seven years in other related 3D visualization studies.