My AP European History students will be learning about Absolutism through the power of King Louis XIV. As part of those lessons they will be seeing the splendor of the Palace of Versailles. I would love to ask our district's Finance Department if we could take a class field trip to Versailles, however, that is not a fiscally responsible use of tax money! (Besides probably getting laughed at for even thinking that would be a possibility) I may not be able to physically take my students to Versailles, however, VR can give my students the ability to tour Versailles virtually. This is a powerful usage of technology as it has the ability to improve student learning, at a relatively inexpensive price tag.
It's pretty clear how VR can be used in the History classroom. Being able to tour distant battlefields, cities, places of interest, monuments, and other historically important places is a super-easy usage of virtual reality. But what about using it in other curricular areas? I see great benefit to biology students being able to tour the Amazon rainforest, business classes stepping inside the New York Stock Exchange, art classes touring the Guggenheim, and elementary classrooms touring any place imaginable! Virtual reality has the ability to extend student learning by providing very inexpensive ways to see other important places or events.
Virtual reality even has the ability to alter how students learn about potential careers. According to D. Frank Smith's article titled "5 Tech Trends That Could Supercharge Education in 2016," Soledad O'Brien's 2015 ISTE keynote mentioned that VR could "allow students to test the waters of different careers." This could be a substantial change in the way that students research and choose careers. It would give them the opportunity to virtually work in a career, versus just simply researching or shadowing someone in that career field.
How affordable is Virtual Reality for schools? According to Maureen Yoder's article on the ISTE.org website titled "Virtual Reality in the Classroom Just Got Affordable," the price of Google Cardboard ranges from $5 to $85 per set. To use those, it requires a smartphone with internet connection, and the ability to download certain apps. An alternative to Google's cardboard is Samsung's "Gear VR." Samsung Gear costs $70 on Amazon.com and seems to be a more comfortable, sturdy, and user-friendly device. It has controls built into the side for ease of use. However, Gear VR is only compatible with Samsung phones, which drastically limits its abilities in the classroom.
So what is the reality of virtual reality in the classroom? To me, it has the ability to improve student learning by providing them the ability to see far away places, to virtually work in a career, or to explore a world that would not be readily accessible. The technology must be paired with a clear lesson and have a teacher that fully understands how to operate the technology. It has the ability to change the classroom. We will see how successful schools are at implementing the technology and if it truly is a worthwhile venture.