Virtual reality: finding its way to the classroom

Assured Growth

nick-vr-zoom
Joe Burke tries on a pair of VR glasses, in this case, he is touring the ocean around Australia while sitting in an apartment off campus from the University of Denver.

In 2014, revenue from virtual reality software and hardware was worth $90 million dollars. In 2016, however, revenues reached $3.8 billion, indicating a universal surge from two-dimensional screens to an immersive experience within a headset. As revenues for virtual reality grow, teachers and students are beginning to see it’s potential in education. 

Conducting full-scale surgeries, creating practical architectural drawings, working with materials to design complex elements and exploring global cultures are the types of experiences that teachers are hoping to give students while in the classroom.

Lowering the Cost of Development

“It’s available to us right now,” explains Mohammad Mahoor, an associate professor of engineering at the University of Denver. “I’ve see the capabilities to manipulate design elements within the headsets.”

ritchie
The Ritchie school of engineering is a high-tech facility that was added to the University of Denver’s campus at the beginning of the 2016 school year.

Mahoor also explains how the affordability of the goggles compared to physical engineering equipment could connect younger, less privileged students to the skills and hands-on experience required to be proficient in a variety of fields.

Virtual reality has the potential to narrow the margins between education levels around the world. A school that’s able to afford a pair of goggles and the appropriate program can put their students in an operating room, to the center of the earth, or walk the streets of Rome (or ancient Rome).

Taylor Faust, a former pre-med student at the University of Denver, expressed his interest in the technology.

“As an undergrad, the university doesn’t offer students the
experience of performing a surgery in a real environment, I wouldn’t expect them to. The closest I had ever gotten was to watch a surgery on a screen. It was helpful but to be able to put on a headset and actually perform a surgery would be a whole different level.”

The Growth of Virtual Reality

In 2018, the share of VR software for medical use is expected to be at 3 percent, engineering 2 percent and general education 1 percent. Seemingly small, these percentages amount to $312 million of the predicted $5.2 billion in 2018.

“The market for the technology is there, schools are actively trying to expand their resources, [and] this could even lower the costs,” says Sandra Young, a marketing professor at the University of Denver.

Young attended South by Southwest this year, which is typically a stage for tech companies to show off their newest technologies and dreams for the future.

“They are currently videotaping campuses so students can take virtual tours from the seats of their guidance counselor’s office.” Young shares the excitement of VR because she believes it opens a brand new creative space for marketers.

Tours would not be limited to the borders of this country either. Imagine deciding where to study abroad by first touring through Italy’s streets or by hiking the Andes mountains in South America.

Affordability

For now, basic devices like Google’s Cardboard and Samsung’s Gear VR are available for $20 and $99 respectively but also require a smartphone. Compared to an operating table or a trip to Paris, however, consider them relatively inexpensive.

Oculus Rift, the front-runner of VR technology is billing higher at $599 per headset. Although these might be out of reach for many grade schools, it is not impossible to
conceive competition and other factors driving the price down

taylor-faust
Joe Burke looks over the map for the new engineering building on University of Denver’s Campus.

on this equipment.

Much of the optimism for the technology for the systems is match by skepticism.

“I don’t believe that a VR experience will match the level of learning that hands-on can offer,” says Joe Burke, an engineering major at the University of Denver. “Denver’s new facilities offer way more than anything I have seen in virtual reality.”

But Burke isn’t skeptical enough to ignore its potential. “In the next couple of years maybe the technology could replace what [University of] Denver used to provide.”

Burke believes that schools lacking state-of-the-art programs could integrate VR to create higher a baseline of learning. For now, students of higher education will have to wait and see where the future of VR is taking them.

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