In the final installment of my blog series concerning education and technology, I would like to look ahead at the new technology that is currently attracting interest within educational and academic research. As a reminder, this series stems from the Jean Piaget Society conference I attended which had the theme “Technology and Human Development.” In prior blog posts, I discussed the rate of change of technology (part I), definition of ancient vs digital technology (part II), and the implications of the shift from software to cloud based technology in education (part III). My interest in educational technology relates to its effects on how we both individually and as a society process and construct new ideas. The question for me is as technology rapidly changes how will that affect the way we learn?
The hot new topic in technology is Virtual Reality (VR). We have begun to see simple units developed for the mass market, such as Samsung’s Gear VR, the HTC Vive, Facebook’s Oculus Rift, and Google Daydream. As is often the case, the entertainment industry seems to be the driving force behind the introduction of this new technology. Video games and short promotional movies are being developed first and the future financials for VR seems to be immense. One projection by Greenlight Insights indicates that that VR will continue to drive at a 64% annual increase and be a $75 billion dollar industry by 2021.
What is different about this particular technological change is that even though VR has yet to be standardized and Educational Technology isn’t as “sexy” as the entertainment industry, we have already begun to see major players beginning to embrace the EdTech VR market. Google is an example, as it leads the way in trying to understand what VR will mean for the classroom. The “core” idea at this point seems to be to use the new technology to expand and improve on what is already being taught by improving access, active participation, and independence for all students.
Currently, there are examples of virtual field trips or walking tours of natural and architectural wonders from around the world being developed for many different disciplines in education. These 360-degree tours provide an immersive and memorable VR classroom experience in which to relate to the content material differently from images in a textbook. In the future, this VR experience will not only be visual but will use haptic technology to involve the other senses such as touch, smell, and sounds for a truly immersive and actively engaging experience. But VR is being used as educational technology in other ways as well, taking advantage of the ability to use eye-tracking to gage student focus and interest. Current applications include developing smoking cessation applications, helping students develop personal empathy, reducing student anxiety, and VR sessions that help acclimatize therapists to working with real patients.
I do feel that in education we are limited only by our imagination in this new world of virtual reality and do not currently understand the depth of change this revolution that is about to take place in education. Rapidly changing technology is not only set to change our educational structure but will also change how we cognitively process and store information within our brain. The question, then, is are we willing to ride the wave of technological change or be dragged along kicking and screaming in its undertow?