Will virtual reality drive deeper learning?


Attending a seminar this week on the topic of how technology can help students learn I was made aware of this article in Edutopia. Technology, when used correctly, can help students who are struggling with school learn. We have students who do not even dare venture into the school building. We solve that by sending our teachers out to meet them and provide learning on different channels.

In this article, they discuss the use of virtual augmented reality and how it can/will influence the classrooms. I have attended several workshops that show how this can be used in the classroom, but it is usually quite costly and that, of course, is an issue to take into consideration.

To really understand someone’s perspective, you have to “walk a mile in their shoes,” as the saying goes. By giving students the ability to see through another’s eyes and “experience anything the animator can fathom,” VR has earned the nickname “the empathy machine.”

This year, the nonprofit Global Nomads piloted the One World, Many Storiesprogram, which used virtual reality to build connections between 20 classrooms in the United States and the Middle East. Through the program’s VR simulations, students are able to walk the streets with a teen in Jordan or rural Kentuckyand be immersed in their day-to-day life, gaining understanding of other cultures and viewpoints along the way.

A group of Los Angeles high school students at a school in Compton were able to “drop in” to the heart of Aleppo, Syria, through the VR simulation and experience the impact of an explosion, which helped them gain perspective about life during wartime. Afterward, the Compton students had a video dialogue with Syrian youths in a refugee camp to discuss their experiences.

“I never dreamed that I was going to take it to high school students, who might be able to make changes in the lives of Syrian children refugees,” said Nonny de la Peña, who created the simulation.


Like doctors who have been using VR to assist in surgeries and pinpoint ailments—by generating 3D models of real patient tumors from MRI scans, for example—science teachers are saying VR can help deepen understanding of subjects such as biology and anatomy, which require students to grasp the inner workings of cells and organs that are not visible to the human eye.

In Belmont, California, high school biology teacher Rebecca Girard has been using mixed reality computers from zSpace—which come with special glasses that allow cells and organs to “pop out” of the flat screen in 3D—to help her students gain a better grasp on how the heart works. Using apps like Cyber Science, zSpace Studio, and Human Anatomy Atlas, Girard’s students can follow the path of blood flow through arteries as the heart beats, watching valves open and close.

“Real organs used in dissection are preserved and inflexible, and the valves and muscle no longer pump,” Girard said. “I have been teaching biology for 22 years, and I have never had students understand the structures, relationships, and orientations of the organs with the same clarity as when they used virtual reality.”

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