What are the ‘do’s and don'ts’ of using Virtual Reality in a classroom?

Date: 28.05.2017
What are the ‘do’s and don'ts’ of using Virtual Reality in a classroom?

So, the results of Virtual Reality (VR) in education have been published with the benefits but what we are not told are the do’s and don’ts of using VR in a classroom. As a researcher in the field I have some helpful tips on what works and what doesn’t, including some resources that can be used in lessons today.

In a survey of more than 1000 teachers, 85% agree that VR would have a positive effect on their students whereas only 2% of teachers are actually using VR in their classrooms (Mareco, 2017). Why is this? It is likely due to the lack of skills associated with the use of the hardware – the goggles you put on your face, and of the software – the apps available to support students learning.

What you should be doing

Get the gear:
VR headsets can be a cost-efficient and classroom friendly device that can create an immersive learning experience.
  • Google Cardboard: almost every modern smartphone can be a VR headset with the Google Cardboard. It is available for $15 - $20 pp, keeping in mind that either the teacher / school or students will need to provide a smartphone per headset for these experiences to work. Also, available to teachers is a package, Google Expeditions Kits, that does not require smartphones that have everything you need to sustain a VR classroom/s. The price however jumps as it is a full class kit starting at $6,028 for 10 headsets. Remember that this is an excellent option as it is ready to go out of the box. 
  • Samsung Gear VR v2, powered by Oculus, is available for $150 - $160 and compatible with Samsung’s latest Galaxy smartphone. The Gear VR also requires a phone, same as the Google Cardboard, however limits the phones used to the latest generations of Samsung smartphones.
The next VR options offer experiences that are far better than the portable smartphone versions listed above but it is going to limit you by budget and the computer you need to run it – that’s right, computers are needed for these and they need to be mid to high end computers that support VR. The VR headsets are tethered to the computer by cables to send through the image and receive positional data.
  • Going up in price per person, when compared to the above, is the Oculus Rift at approximately $730 for just the headset. For $860 however, you can include two controllers to visualise your hands in the experience. You pay for what you get when it comes to Oculus: sharp imagery, plenty of software and excellent positional tracking.
  • HTC Vive VR has the highest price point at $1,399 but that includes two controllers that can be visualised in the experience. Similar to the Oculus Rift, it offers the same experience but can be used while standing and walking in a designated space.

What can you do with it?

Watch virtual reality videos: There is a large variety of virtual learning content available at no cost. There are many VR libraries of 360 degree immersive videos. Games are a big focus of VR so there are obviously some games that can interest you, however it is mainly an experiential device as content creators have easy access to 360 video cameras. Other options below.
VR Experience
Image: iStock

Educational opportunities:

Google Expeditions
Some experiences teachers can look at could be in Google Expeditions, a VR learning space that allows teachers to guide their students in real time, there is a variety of content of their own choosing. Google Expeditions is free and works with Google Cardboard or any VR device from a 3rd party manufacturer.

This app offers students the chance to create and enter their own worlds in VR. Sketchfab is a free tool that allows users to upload their 3D creations to be viewed in VR. Available on Google Cardboard, Oculus Rift, Samsung Gear VR and HTC Vivie for Free.

allows students to recreate settings studied in novels or design their own fictional city all in a 3D space that they can then explore in VR. This is a great tool for teachers to offer guided learning experiences as everything is in the Free app with additional paid features coming soon. CoSpace includes some educational resources on their website. Available on Google Cardboard or any VR device from a 3rd party manufacturer.

If you are looking for a high school and university focused subject we have Labster, a simulated experiential environment that is entirely focused in a scientific lab. The way this was created was completely with the supervision of experts in the field with an inhouse team. This means that the entire virtual experience was controlled by the experts. The results from the use of Labster in classrooms speaks for itself. The Labster scientific laboratory simulator has shown large improvement in student learning outcomes. Prices start from a monthly fee from $10 - $27, Labster has an excellent record for raising learning outcomes for students. It is available on mobile devices for Samsung Gear VR.

Titans of Space
A guided tour of some planets and starts offering students a 3D sense of scale that cannot be offered in any other way. Over 40 celestial objects with an hour of voice over guidance this is an excellent option for students who are learning about space. Available on Google Cardboard, Oculus Rift and Samsung Gear VR for $7.99.

Discovery VR
Discovery VR
is a free VR video app made for the Google Cardboard, Oculus Rift, Samsung Gear VR and HTC Vive. The app takes you on adventures with the Discovery Channel. This is an excellent opportunity for teachers and students to experience almost everything earth has to offer.
There are many more options out there but they are all created for a specific subject like Labster being a science centric application.

What are the don’ts?

There are many options out there, as mentioned above the app list, and some of the options you should stand clear from as they might look ‘cool’ but offer little in the way of good learning backed up by learning theory.
  • Use apps that are specific to your class / lesson.
  • Don’t get scared of the price. Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) is an option for many classes and not every student needs a device. Google Cardboard is around $15 depending where it is shipped from, for a small upfront free there are many free apps that VR has to offer.
  • Don’t start with the expensive options, they are highly priced and require a powerful computer to run them that can also start to cost a lot. Google Cardboard is an excellent beginning point. Depending on the application, much of the best experiences are the simplest, such as video experiences.
  • If going for an Oculus Rift or HTC Vive make sure you have the physical space as many of the applications are standing up and move around experiences.

What are the do’s?

  • Research the VR device and applications before spending any money.
  • Collaboration with other teachers is a good idea to justify the cost of even the cheapest VR solution.
  • Learn how it works! Before taking it into a lesson you need to know what can go wrong. If it’s a Google Cardboard there may be connection issues with the internet along with lack of storage on the smartphone. If you are using the Oculus Rift or HTC Vive there are many resources online to help but require a good understanding of the hardware (things can go wrong / stop working because something was not done correctly).
When using VR there are many things that can be done right, take into consideration what works for you and what doesn’t. Have students build their own VR content, it works well and aids in good learning, don’t download a roller-coaster experience app and relate it to momentum and science as it offers little to good theoretical learning.

VR is fun! Use it wisely and any students who have that experience won’t forget the lesson as it gives you the experience to take home with you. As John Dewey (1939) once said ‘It is not enough to insist upon the necessity of experience, nor even of activity of experience. Everything depends upon the quality of the experience which is had’ (Dewey, 1938, p. 27).

By Luke Milkovic


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