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Educational Technology’s Next Frontier: VR/AR/XR

The abundance of technology around us in education today can have a strange, obscuring effect on all of the newest advancements.  For those not on the cutting edge of tech news, virtual reality and augmented reality might seem like interesting subjects that only mildly affect education. However, outside of virtual reality games and home design apps, companies are finding new and interesting ways to use technology to interact with a reality that can someday be, and often are now being, used in the classroom.

So, what are VR, AR, and XR?

  • VR or Virtual Reality:

Virtual Reality refers to the use of technology to create a simulated environment. The most well-known examples of VR currently are games and experiences. While large companies like Google, Microsoft, HTC, and Oculus (Facebook) started off focusing on the game aspect of virtual reality, all have now expanded into crafting other types of fully immersive experiences from education to training to exploration. One burgeoning area for VR is employee training. What’s exciting is this type of VR training is no longer limited to niche areas like flight simulators or medical fields, but rather are being used by a diverse group of institutions from the military and law enforcement to companies such as Walmart and automakers.   

  • AR or Augmented Reality:

Augmented Reality is presenting a user with a composite image of their own view plus a computer-generated image. Common AR experiences abound, from visually seeing for sale furniture items positioned in your own home to the Pokemon Go game phenomenon.   In business, augmented reality is taking hold to help members of construction teams visualize tasks that need to be completed. Building Information Modeling is a field that maps the complex systems of a building from electric, to plumbing, to mechanical and more. Augmented reality apps allow engineers to visualize how all these systems work together. AR also provides engineers and architects a way to show construction crews how to build complex structures, such as uneven brick walls. Since basic AR only requires a mobile device you can find many apps that craft fun AR experiences for your smartphone or tablet.

  • XR or Extended Reality

This is an umbrella term that includes both AR and VR but also encompasses all human-machine interfaces, such as wearables, that offer partial sensory input to full VR immersion. Flight simulators, and your Apple smartwatch or FitBit that buzzes telling you to take a break, are types of XR. One area many people don’t expect to see XR is in the fashion industry.  Taking the idea of wearables even further some intrepid entrepreneurs are crafting clothing integrated with technology.  

Education and AR/VR/XR

But what about education? In the K-12 space, AR and VR are already taking off. Companies such as Merge, zSpace, VR Math, and others are working to engage learners in new and exciting ways.  Corporations are also getting into the mix. VR for Good, by Oculus, and Google cardboard support education initiatives and are working to create low-cost accessible XR experiences.  

Getting Started

So how do you get started? You can subscribe to a few of the Facebook groups that discuss using XR technology in the classroom such as VR in the Classroom and Virtual & Augmented Reality for Education to get ideas. There are also a host of resources and articles online, a few to check out:

Several schools already offer some type of XR support, such as device checkout from the library or VR/ AR tech hubs. A few also offer classes in VR, AR technology and programs developed around AR, VR.  For more inspiration checkout the VR, AR, XR programs at these schools:

About the Author

Suzanne Galayda has taught mathematics for over fifteen years with a focus on developmental and first year mathematics courses.   Her areas of interest are ED-Tech, technology in the classroom, and AR/VR in education.  She has been using McGraw-Hill’s CONNECT and ALEKS platforms in hybrid mathematics classrooms for the past several years.  Most recently, she worked on ASU’s OLC award winning redesign of College Algebra using ALEKS.   She also contributes to the McGraw-Hill Math-Tips Newsletter.

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