Virtual reality may be seen by some as the next best thing in the gaming industry, but one of virtual reality's fastest-moving applications may be within education.
It's already broken into classrooms within the past few years with devices like Samsung (SSNLF) Gear VR and headsets such as Google (GOOG) (GOOGL) Cardboard, meant mostly for taking children on virtual field trips and visualizing complicated concepts.
But the release of these affordable devices -- Cardboard can be used with most existing phones with a $20 viewfinder and Samsung's VR device retails for $99 -- may mean virtual reality is about to expand past field trips and into other realistic educational experiences, such as classes, one-on-one meetings with teachers or the ability to practice speeches in front of virtual people.
"The time of low-cost VR is already upon us, and I expect VR to become a more salient part of our everyday lives as devices continue to develop in the coming months," Stanford professor and virtual reality researcher Jeremy Bailenson said. "The biggest question that VR faces is in content creation, which currently is expensive and time-consuming."
However, some experts urge patience, saying innovative technology within classrooms is only as good as the teachers who use them and the training they're provided -- both of which is currently limited.Alphabet's Google rolled out Google Expeditions, its education-focused virtual reality curriculum, last year to a selected group of schools for its pilot program. Expeditions itself is a 360-degree field trip where students are transported to common environments such as U.S. zoos or impossible excursions such as 1770s Philadelphia or the rugged landscape of Mars.
"The oos and the ahs that were coming out of their mouths ... It's just amazing; it's such a cool way to teach," said Fremont, Calif.-based French teacher Kerrie Chabot, who used Google Expeditions to show her class Versailles rather than using online images. "I'm sure they'll retain it better."Chabot is among teachers who are fundraising to get virtual reality headsets for their classrooms so they'll be poised when Expeditions is available to the public -- right now it's only available via Google's pilot program, which is a beta of sorts.
As consumer virtual reality devices less than $100 start hitting shelves, the possibilities for virtual reality within schools can be seen in academic literature.In Jeremy Bailenson's Virtual Human Interaction Lab at Stanford University, students use virtual reality devices to listen to an avatar's lecture in a simulated classroom. The classroom itself -- complete with noisy cars passing by windows and distracted students in some simulations -- tricked students' brains into believing the lesson was so real that an excess of distracted avatars caused the real subjects to pay less attention in class, much like how a class clown will peer pressure someone to kid around more during lectures.
The findings show that not only do students' brains accept the virtual reality classroom as real instruction -- a powerful ability if students one day are able to stream into classes in other districts or other countries through virtual reality -- but they can be swayed by avatars they know to be fake.His research also showed that virtual reality could be used to make a student whose desk is in the back of a classroom feel like he is sitting directly in front of the teacher, an experience that increased focus.
"Virtual humans are powerful. In dozens of studies we have shown that people respond to avatars in ways similar to actual humans," Bailenson said.