Wednesday, October 05, 2016

Virtual Reality in Education–Sooner or Later?

There is a lot of excitement about virtual reality and the prospects of it changing education. Everything from Google Cardboard (on the low end of cost and ease of development) to Microsoft Hololens (more augmented reality than virtual reality perhaps) are being touted as the future of education.


These are exciting technologies. Are they the future? Probably. The big question is when. Some people are saying soon. Robert Scoble says that “Mixed reality is the best education technology humans have ever invented. By far." and he seems to think it will only be a few years before schools are fully onboard with Virtual Reality.

I agree in part and disagree in part. Mixed reality is awesome. He has amazing potential for education. But soon? I don’t think so. It’s not a technology problem though. The tech will be there. The tools for development will be there. And I suspect that a lot of companies will be selling products in the near future. Silicon Valley looks on education as being ripe for disruption and sees dollar signs.

Schools move slowly though. Walk though a school today and you will see a lot of technology not being used. In schools in our less affluent areas you may not even see much technology at all. Taxpayers are questioning the value of computers and related technology as it is. Will they jump to pay for expensive and unproven Virtual or Mixed Reality tools? Some will. Many will not.

When I bring up the slow moving of technology into schools people like to bring up successes like Khan Academy. And they will point to leading edge educators or even schools as examples. But these are generally not typical. Khan Academy works great for self motivated learners or learners who have someone making sure they watch the videos. They are used in schools but not as replacements for teachers. In fact they are used very similarly to how slideshows were used when I was in school 50 years ago. hardly disruptive technology.

There will be parents who buy educational VR/MR tools for their children. There will be parent organizations who buy them for individual schools or teachers. Both will be limited to affluent parents and schools for years though. Schools with tight budgets (which is most schools) are not going to be early adopters.

The typical way technology has been adopted in recent years is pretty clear. There are early adopters who get grant money and do innovative things with the technology. A year or two later they start presenting at conferences like ISTE and get a lot of people excited. A year or two later some schools buy some of the technology and hand it off to teachers who are untrained, or unenthusiastic, or both. The technology goes nowhere in most of these schools. As a result excitement over the tool wanes and people start looking at the next “silver bullet.”

We saw this with FlipCams for example. There are many still collecting dust in schools all over the country. Then we saw iPads which are now being replaced by Chrome Books. Are any of these really disrupting and improving education? In a few places perhaps they are but not widely. Those few places get a lot of attention and I can see how people who want to believe in them think great things are happening everywhere but that is hardly the case.

Virtual and Mixed reality will make a difference. Initially for the well off and the children of parents willing to sacrifice for their children. Going mainstream is going to take a while.

1 comment:

Garth said...

The issue I see is a lot of the "innovative" technology does not improve the teaching methodology, it just changes it and makes it more expensive. I have a couple of teachers that use interactive boards. They estimate it has taken them 3 years to revamp their teaching to use the true features of the boards. May schools spend money like there is no end to it for tech that is not an improvement on what the teacher can do in the classroom with "old school" tools.