Crédits photos : Lenovo
Virtual reality has established itself in many sectors including education. The virtual is progressively entering the classrooms. MOOCs (Massive Open Online Course), those online interactive lessons available for all, are useful tools to complete the traditional school system. There are also more and more e-learning platforms that propose online lessons and follow-up for any student. Immersive contents appear as playful alternatives to traditional lectures. But, the integration of VR/AR equipment in classrooms raises questions. What is the place of virtual reality in education and teaching?
Towards a mutation of the education system?
Virtual and augmented reality have been used in education for several years now. According to a study by Goldman Sachs in 2016, $700 million will be invested in VR/AR applications in the education sector from now to 2025. It’s a small share compared to the $5 billion invested in health. Nevertheless, the development is quite significant in North America and Asia. In the United States, 30% of the uses in virtual reality by general public concern educational content. In France, there are several cases and applications that show the growing interest for immersive contents.
Virtual and augmented reality have potential for teaching. The VR/AR sector agrees to say that immersive techniques allow a different but yet complementary learning. Immersive learning uses the principle of active teaching which transforms the passive student into an actor. Then, he is more engaged in his training course and more attentive to lessons.
Today, there are many possibilities of VR/AR applications for the school system. Pupils can be immersed in a fully virtual classroom. VR can also transport to another place: space to know more about the solar system or an antique city to deepen the learning of history. Immersive techniques are a good learning tool for students in professional training. Many scenarios and simulations were conceived to help them get used to a sector of activity in particular.
Training students for their future jobs
The use of virtual reality in education is more developed in professional courses. In the same way as employees, apprentices can train to professional gestures. By being immersed in a virtual environment, they can learn and train thanks to simulations. The use of virtual reality and a fully digital environment allow to repeat a task indefinitely. This way, students have the right to make mistakes and they can carry out a task until they memorize it. Virtual reality enables learning by doing. With this method, users reach a memorisation rate of 75-90%, against 5-10% with a traditional lecture. Solutions exist today to make virtual reality available in the professionalizing fields.
Learning and reproducing professional gestures
To help students in sales and commerce, the French company Dec Industrie developed a virtual reality solution. In a CAVE, the student is immersed in a computer-generated environment. With a headset on, he finds himself inside a store. There, he can train in several available scenarios to improve the skills he learns in the workplace. There are seven different exercises including inventorying, shelf-filling, delivery receipt and control, drive order picking, etc. Everytime, the student puts himself in the shoes of a salesman and reproduces professional gesture he can do again later in the workplace.
This solution is a real plus for students. It allows them to practice their future job outside of the workplace. It’s a good complement to the traditional training course and to the lessons followed in class. Especially as the application was conceived with educational experts to respond to the skills listed in the reference document of the ministry of national education. Professeurs have access to additional documents than can be used during theoretical lessons, such as activity reports and video replay.
Including practice into theoretical training
When we follow a theoretical training and we face technical concepts, it’s always difficult to project. Using virtual reality can allow to improve the comprehension of complex notions. The VirtualiTeach program was initiated several years ago in that purpose. Immediately supported by the French State, its objective is to introduce virtual reality simulators into classrooms. The system was installed in four high schools of the French region of Pays-de-la-Loire to integrate the STI2D (Sciences and Technologies for Industry and Sustainable Development) program.
With this program, the laboratory CLARTE wanted to put the student as an actor of the simulation and go further than the simple visualization of data. The applications developed in this program are intended to facilitate the understanding of complex physical phenomena. Virtual reality allows the students to observe the materials and feel them thanks to force feedback technology. With this active learning method with force feedback, students are able to better apprehend theoretical concepts. The efficiency of the program has been recognized. VirtualiTeach was the first virtual reality project to be funded by the National Education in France. It’s one proof that immersive technologies are more and more integrated in educational programs and establishments. Very recently, a virtual reality tool to learn how to weld was installed in the new mechanical workshop of the apprentice training center of Laval in Mayenne.
A tool for science learning
Virtual reality enables to immerse into a 100% virtual learning environment. It’s a way to understand more easily complex phenomena. Afterwards, it reduces or even erases entirely potential risks of a simulation. Particularly in the domain of science and physics where certain experiences can be dangerous if they are misconducted. Virtual reality seems to be a solution to practice experiments safely, but also to touch upon complex concepts. A number of applications exist today to assist students in science learning.
Conducting chemistry experiments safely
The Arts & Métiers Institute of Laval imagined a virtual reality application that immerses inside a laboratory. This place being fully virtual, a student can do chemistry experiments without any risks of dangerous reaction. Dactyléa helps conducting the Pharaoh’s snake experiment which requires the handling of potentially risky products. Thus, carrying it out in a digital environment enables to erase those risks while showing the student the dangerous nature of the substances used.
An artificial intelligence helps the student during the experiment by guiding him step by step. At the end, the exercise is graded; this allows the student to see whether or not he was successful in his experiment. According to his results, he can therefore repeat the experience over and over again, until he gets a satisfying score and feels confident. This application prepares the student who can afterwards do the experiment more easily in real life and thus minimize the risks.
Helping yound people understand the world of science
The world of science is complex, and virtual reality can help understand its notions. In this perspective, Mel Chemistry prepared a lesson plan in virtual reality from Kindergarten to Senior year. The lessons enable to understand conceptual elements such as atoms and molecules. Virtual reality allows students to interact with digital objects and thus better understand the composition of the chemical elements.
These VR lessons can easily be integrated in educational programs and used by teachers. During a lesson, which lasts between 3 and 7 minutes, the teacher has a tablet. He can control the lesson by pausind and supervise the level of each pupil. He can also keep talking and teach a normal class. Students will be able to listen to their teaching while looking at the images in the VR headset. It’s a real educational tool and a playful complement to the traditional courses.
Virtual reality for all?
The uses of virtual reality in education are developing because its benefits are recognized by the VR/AR community. The technology is a very good tool for professional training. In some courses, we don’t hesitate to integrate VR into school programs to train students for their future job. But the use of immersive contents in classrooms are not automatic yet, especially in France. However, elsewhere in the world, teachers are not impervious to using virtual reality in their classes.
The educational potential of virtual reality
In Quebec, a network of educational consultants imagined a whole training program around virtual reality. It aims to show how technology can be used for history and geography lessons. Several primary and secondary teachers have integrated VR inside their classrooms. The program is complete and offers educational sheets and exercises for pupils. It explains how applications such as Google Street View or Expeditions can allow students to improve their knowledge of history and geography by exploring the places through a VR headset.
An experience of the same kind was conducted in a middle school in Baltimore in the United States. The students used the Lenovo VR Classroom kit to project themselves in other part of the globe. Virtual reality is used in particular by a science teacher to explore the human body, and by a technology teacher to visit the space and discover the planets. According to them, the experience was efficient. The students learned better from the game and the wonder of teleporting to another universe.
The key to adapt virtual reality and its uses
Virtual reality has many potentials for education, and several units are integrated in school program worldwide. But integrating new technologies such as immersive techniques raises a number of questions. First, can we expose children to new technologies? Indeed, the use of virtual reality is limited to a minimum age of 13. The prolonged use of VR can provoke disorientations, nausea and eye strain. Today, there is no headset adapted for young public and fully intended for education.
One of the limits of the diffusion of virtual reality in classrooms is the cost. The deployment of immersive techniques require an important investment. Every schools can’t afford a simulator of VR/AR materials. Nevertheless, the democratisation is on its way, and several solutions exist to have access to immersive content. Today, the simple use of a table is enough to make augmented reality elements appear. We can alors easily buy a VR headset with low budget: for example the Google Cardboard. The development of VR/AR content platforms also contribute to improving access to immersive techniques for as many people as possible. A large number of VR/AR applications are available on the App Store and the Play Store and can be used on smartphones.
*(source: Parks Associates; Statista, 2019)