I really enjoyed Logan and Bill’s presentation this week on virtual and augmented reality. I’ve always thought that these are powerful educational tools, hence why NASA uses VR to train astronauts, but they seemed so distant from mainstream use, too expensive and too far into the future to concern myself with now. I was pleasantly surprised this week though to find out that the FUTURE IS NOW!! Well, kind of…the real good quality VR is still expensive and the more mainstream versions can have resolution issues and such, but there are still some neat experiences available currently, and I can’t wait to see where this goes in the near future! Certainly, with more people getting their hands on VR and AR devices, developers will have incentive to make better programs.

My mind is swimming around all kinds of possibilities right now, where do I start?

Okay, let me start with some of the educational uses I see VR and AR having. I do think that these tools have the ability to add significant value to education. There’s that oft quoted phrase in education that goes along the lines of ‘tell me and I’ll forget, show me and I may remember, involve me and I’ll understand’. There are many topics and experiences that are near impossible to involve students in, and sometimes it’s even hard to show students! But VR and AR have the potential to not only show students, but involve them! Barriers such as ethics, cost, and safety are less an issue when doing something in virtual reality. You do not send an astronaut into space, a hostile environment, to train due to both cost and safety. But through VR, astronauts and train in a recreated environment that is much cheaper and allows for mistakes to be made without the loss of human life. These benefits can be transferred to all educational institutes when this technology becomes mainstream. Imagine what will happen to student engagement on top of this??

I see this type of reality as a great asset in my domain; the science classroom. Cost and safety are major hurdles in a science laboratory, but apart from that, many of our concepts are incredibly difficult for students to visualize and grasp. It’s pretty hard to visualize just how small an atom is, or how vast the empty space is between atoms. How can your brain possibly grasp the idea of billions of light years? I use lots of analogies to help my students, but I think VR and AR will help these concepts become more clear to those who can’t visualize it, and even strengthen understanding for those who already do.

Just yesterday in my science 9 classroom we were talking about special and general relativity…incredibly hard topics to grasp! Then this morning I checked out one link that Logan and Bill provided and it’s called ‘Imagine sitting in a lecture room with Einstein as he talks about the Theory of Relativity’. I can’t wait for the day when me and my students can put on our VR headsets and be transported to a place where we can clearly see these ideas shown and taking place.

This still sounds so far off, but I was feeling very optimistic after reading Heidi’s blog in which she really provides some great info on getting going with Google Cardboard. This video found on her blog really inspired me to create my own Google Cardboard over the next few weeks.

I know that this type of VR headset isn’t going to match what the astronauts train with, but for the cost, this is awesome!! What I also love about it is the idea that we can all make them. My wife is a maker, and seeing what she does has inspired me to start trying to make more things with my own hands. It is incredibly rewarding. I really think the maker movement is such a great idea, and I’m working on having my students more involved in maker projects, and that’s an area I really want to continue to advance in my classes. I think that everyone should be making things. I love how myself and my students can actually make this VR headset. The engagement, the problem solving skills, the experiences at the end all add to the experience, and I think that’s more valuable than buying one!

I am also a very passionate environmental science teacher and climate change and environmental stewardship is a theme that interweaves through all my classes. I came across this article called ‘Using Virtual Reality To Avoid Catastrophe’ in which people are transported to a coral reef and they are able to be there and experience the degradation of the reef from carbonic acid, due to increasing carbon dioxide emissions. What a great way to have people actually experience the consequences! This same article also talks about the homeless project, where people are put into the shoes of a homeless person so that they can experience what that is like, with the idea of creating empathy. This has great value in the science classroom, but think of the social justice and all of the other experiences people can have with this technology.

After thinking about all of this, my first thoughts were that I would love to be able to take my students on walks on the planets of our solar system! I love astronomy, and I’ve always found students love it because there’s just so many amazing things to talk about. Everything we can dream of in our science fiction, well, it pretty much exists somewhere out there! The weirdest objects and places imaginable actually exist and we can let our imaginations run free imagining what other kinds of worlds are out there. Astronomy is littered with beautiful photos, but I can’t even begin to imagine the awesome power of being able to be transported to these places and go for a stroll…

I also love teaching health science! I can imagine students being able to go on a ‘Magic School Bus’ like journey through the body! Travel down a neuron as an action potential…I can picture it all!

I came across this article about the best educational apps for Google Cardboard right now and I noticed that astronomy and health science are in there…excuse me while I go and find some cardboard, I’ve got a project to make!

I’m excited for the classroom of the future. We’re going to go places we never thought we could. Where are you going to take your classroom?

Live long and prosper