Friday, November 9, 2007

How important is VR in education?

I had the pleasure of participating in a panel discussion in the "Simulation and the learners of tomorrow" conference organized by the Center for Technology (CTE) in Education at Johns Hopkins University. The conference was attended by teachers, educational administrators, technologists, government and state officials and more.

CTE is one of our first customer, focusing their research in science and math education on the middle-school level. It was fun spending the day with educators to discuss the future of education and how simulations, virtual reality and other advanced technologies can take a part in educating our kids.

I picked up on several interesting questions :
  • How effective will VR be in education? There is no question "VR" is super cool - just ask the dozens of kids that tried Sensics head-mounted displays, but does this coolness translate into more effective learning and retention?
  • What is the preferred display device for VR learning? Is it a large projection display which engages all the class at the same time, or is it head-mounted displays that allow different students to learn immersively at their own pace with little or no distraction from other classmates?
  • Who will pay for VR? Will the school system do it using technology budgets? will this become an after-school enrichment program?
  • How will VR get into the classroom? Will it be a top-down decision from the administrators, or a grass-roots action where rebel teachers that are excited about the VR experience they had elsewhere (home, arcade, science museum) experiment with it in class?
  • If VR is effective, is this effectiveness the result of the newness factor (students are glued to the device because it is new and they have not experienced 3D immersion before), or is it really more effective than standard interactive software on a desktop?
  • What material will be most effective for VR? Is it math and science (e.g. "fantastic voyage inside the body"), history (where VR can take you to other civilizations)? something else?
  • How quickly will VR in education become mainstream?
CTE plans to have a follow-up conference next year, and I hope to be able to report progress from there as well.