With the 2016 release of the Oculus Rift to the public, the age of virtual reality for the everyday American may be underway.
Although smartphone-based VR headsets like the Samsung Gear and the simple Google Cardboard have already been on the market, the new, self-contained, high-definition Oculus Rift, which starts at $599, may mark the first major VR headset for average consumers. Started with help from investors on the crowdfunding site Kickstarter in 2012 and bought by Facebook in 2014, the device was originally created for video games.
The finished product features built-in headphones, a Microsoft controller and other related accessories that are intended for gaming, but many are excited about other possibilities for the sleek headset. This new technology could shape the future of movies, sales and even education.
Technology is already becoming a significant part of the classroom, and virtual reality may just be the next step. The Oculus Rift and other similar products are making high quality virtual reality affordable and accessible for students in the classroom and at home.
From new devices to game-based learning, many educators are excited about the possibilities technology affords students. Today, an overwhelming majority of teachers in the U.S. are using some form of technology in their classrooms, Quartz reported.
Using a survey from digital education company TES Global taken in early 2016, Quartz explained that 84% of the roughly 1,000 teachers surveyed said that “some form of technology” plays a part in their classroom.
As part of the survey, the K-12 teachers were asked which types of technology they wanted to see in the classroom most. Almost a quarter of surveyed teachers — 24.7% — selected game-based learning. Another 19.1% said laptops, 18.7% chose tablets and 10.7% wanted to see 3D printers in schools.
In addition to these potential technology additions to the learning environment, the survey also found that fewer educators worry about these devices as distractions than in last year’s survey. Only 16% reported concern with distraction this year.
The excitement and adoption of technology in schools has already increased from last year’s first TES Global survey. This year, 10% of the educators polled said they’d most like to see virtual reality for teaching purposes, doubling last year’s total.
Educators aren’t the only ones thinking about this technology’s application to students. Those in tech are looking to connect virtual reality to education as well. Speaking to the Web Summit conference in Dublin, Ireland in 2015, Oculus Rift founder Palmer Luckey explained the role he sees for virtual reality in schools as taking children where they wouldn’t normally be able to go.
“I think there’s a lot of potential for virtual reality in the education industry … Classrooms are broken. Kids don’t learn the best by reading books,” Luckey said, according to The Guardian. “There’s clearly value in real-world experiences: going to do things. That’s why we have field trips. The problem is that the majority of people will never be able to do the majority of those experiences.”
A VR headset could transport students to museums, famous landmarks, foreign countries and many other locations that can add educational value for any number school subjects. Virtual reality may not replace actual travel, but it can include more students into these experiences normally reserved for only a few.
At the conference, Luckey reminded people that the original purpose of virtual reality is not just better video games, but also offer different experiences. He expects virtual reality to become a bigger part of everyone’s lives in the near future, The Guardian reported.
With teachers eager to get VR headsets in their classroom, many in higher education are looking forward to teaching with virtual reality as well as developing it. Affordable virtual reality systems such as the Oculus Rift may allow professors to create customized and possibly more effective learning material for their specific courses. Amitabh Varshney, director of the University of Maryland Institute for Advanced Computer Studies, told EdTech magazine that he sees VR headsets breathing new life into old concepts.
“Imagine a physics class where you’re able to show how friction works. Imagine being able to experience gravity on Mars — by moving around virtually,” Varshney, who has worked with virtual reality for decades, told the magazine. “VR can make science, technology and art come alive.”
The promise of teaching physics or geology through virtual reality can only be realized if people are able to create educational applications that work with these new devices. EdTech notes that this may also be happening on college campuses as computer programmers, artists and experts work together. The University of Maryland is already creating a multidisciplinary major to tackle this exact issue.