VR is becoming a core topic in technological courses and is substantially changing how effectively students learn. It is changing the way we approach problems, it helps user engagement, and it is increasing how effectively students retain knowledge. While virtual reality has not become a core part of education, it is predicted to become commonplace within the next couple of years. However funding VR educational initiatives for individual classrooms may be a challenge..
Addressing VR funding issues and educational technology accessablity are important because to prevent inequality in education. Certainly, as VR technology develops and becomes more cost-efficient then there is indeed a future where all schools can have access to VR and its educational benefits. However, what can a school do if they want to use the technology to engage and educate their students now?
Currently, the quickest solution available for schools to obtain VR technology is by applying for VR/technology grants. Grants may be available at the federal, state, and local level for schools to apply for. This includes grants for obtaining VR hardware such as the Technology Teacher Grant by Verizon Fios, or the U.S. Department of Education’s EdSim Challenge for creating an idea for a VR prototype. At a local level, one school in North Carolina had their HTC Vive system funded via a grant from their local Rotary Club. With this, schools can obtain a little or large amount of funding to purchase VR equipment or have the learning technology developed.
Some VR hardware is currently available at an affordable price such as the Google Cardboard or Samsung Gear VR headsets. These standalone headsets only require a smart phone to be placed in the headset plus any VR apps or games downloaded on the phone. These might be an option for many schools attempting to integrate VR in their curriculum. Starting at around $15-$150 per kit, it is far more it affordable, accessible, and less complicated than its full VR counterparts.
However, the issue with these standalone headsets is that it only provides an introductory experience to VR. The technology is limited to a smart phone and the apps available on it. To start, the quality of the experience already becomes limited if the cell phone is low quality. This is further ineffective if the school or individual student does not own a smart phone that can be used with the headset.
Another significant issue with standalones is that lack of a fully immersive experience that VR equipment such as HTC Vives and Oculus Rifts allow. On one hand, a standalone headset’s counterparts have less accompanying equipment, so it’s not as complicated to keep track of or expensive to replace (although it should be noted that Google Cardboard’s headset is more easily breakable and not easily sanitized). However, with the lack of additional controls or cameras, a user is not placed within a virtual reality in the same way. A user does not receive the option to move their arms around in the space or interact with it. Rather, it is more with the standalone headsets that the user instead interacts a 360-degree picture/video.
Some of the standalone equipment may also be uncomfortable for a user after a period of use, which detracts from the experience greatly. Equipment such as Google Cardboard make it so that the user must hold up the equipment to their heads. For other headsets, a significant amount of weight is forced upon the user’s head, which may be uncomfortable for muscles and circulation.
One final potential solution may be to start integrating it in a public space or maker space. Several places such as museums or VR arcades already house the technology, but likely as part of an exhibit and/or for an admission fee. However, VR technology can be made far more accessible if hosted in a space such as a library. In terms of integrating it in a school, if there is a VR Station Area within the school grounds that a group of students may use VR, then this could be far more cost efficient than providing VR equipment for every kid in every classroom.
While this is not a solution for integrating it heavily within a curriculum, it still allows for a large population, including students, to access the technology. If VR is to be introduced in this way, then it is vital that the system’s software and hardware be well-designed to match this. In this way, VR has low barriers to entry, is more public, and is more accessible, but having the system well-designed to fit the area and need it is presented in is critical in preventing counter-productivity.
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