VR could be big in schools, but teachers want more content

VR could be big in schools, but teachers want more content
Melissa Pelletier is an education research editor at MDR, the nation’s leading education marketing group. A division of Dun & Bradstreet, MDR provides education marketing data, services, sales tools, and digital marketing solutions to the education industry and Fortune 500 brands. It specializes in bringing leading brands’ messages to teachers, students, and parents. Before joining MDR, Melissa held a variety of content development roles at organizations ranging from NuSkool to Cambridge University Press to Mattel. She also writes fiction and nonfiction articles for humor publications like McSweeney's Internet Tendency and The Hairpin.

Say goodbye to school libraries that are little more than dusty rows of books. Slowly but surely, they're becoming “maker spaces” where kids learn through hands-on tools and technologies. Schools are stocking these spaces with everything from Raspberry Pis to 3D printers to LEGO building stations.

The latest technology to find its way into schools’ maker spaces? Virtual reality. Without leaving the library or classroom, students using VR can take “field trips” across the world and throughout time. One teacher reported that she used the WWI Trench Experience app as part of her history lesson. Other teachers have used the technology to explain alternative energy sources.

VR experiences aren't just fun and games, either. A 2008 study published in Trends in Cognitive Sciences found that multisensory learning is significantly more effective than unisensory learning. VR also has the potential to help students empathize with others and gain context for what they learn in the classroom.

But because VR is young and school budgets are stretched thin, some educators are waiting to adopt it until more content is available. In fact, Extreme Networks found that 47% of educators consider a lack of content to be their biggest barrier to adoption — more than any other factor. The survey also found, however, that 55 percent of them hope to use it in the future.

Content producers, listen up: Students and educators aren't necessarily looking for better hardware or lower prices on VR gear. Before they buy in, they want more experiences.

What Students and Teachers Want

Not just any VR experience belongs in the classroom. Be sure that anything you build is accessible and easy to integrate into lesson plans. The Extreme Networks study found that 43 percent of educators see complex implementation as a major barrier, nearly as many as those who cited a lack of content.

So what kinds of content are teachers looking for? These areas represent the biggest gaps in educational VR today:

1. Physics and fluid dynamics

VR anatomy labs caught on quickly, but so far, there are few serious physics experiences available. Especially on the atomic and cosmic levels, physical phenomena can be difficult for students to visualize. Why not create a low-cost VR app that lets students take intergalactic tours, build roller coasters, and smash atoms together? Point out key scientific concepts during the virtual experience, and you’ll help teachers set off light bulbs in students’ brains.

2. Social-emotional learning

Because of mounting research and rising demand, teachers and administrators see value in social and emotional learning programs. VR is the perfect vehicle to help students put themselves in others’ shoes. Kids of all ages could benefit from experiences that require them to work in teams or that show them what it’s like to be discriminated against. Social-emotional skills like empathy are valuable both within the classroom and throughout life. They may not be written into the curriculum like history or math yet, but they’re every bit as important.

3. Career exploration

Instead of just listening to students say, “I want to be a doctor when I grow up,” let students experience what it’s like to be a real doctor, mechanic, teacher, or whatever interests them. Because the idea of a career is abstract to young people, they can struggle to connect the skills they’re learning in school with real-world roles. Fortunately, these experiences would be rather simple to produce. VR developers can make arrangements with professionals to shoot 360-degree footage of them working in their field.

No matter how long or how thorough, lectures simply can’t convey a subject like experiences can. VR firms that create compelling, educational content broaden their customer bases, build educator relationships, and help grow the next generation. That’s the reality for companies creating VR experiences for the classroom.

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