A new report from the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation says AR/VR programs could bring new lessons to students across grade levels, given the requisite investments to spur adoption and research.
Although augmented and virtual reality technology is still in the early stages of development, instructors in K-12 and higher education have become increasingly open to making it a staple of classroom instruction, according to a recent report from the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation, a science and technology policy think tank.
The report, The Promise of Immersive Learning: Augmented and Virtual Reality’s Potential in Education, said AR/VR technology could prove itself as a “promising addition” to ed-tech toolkits at schools and universities in the years ahead. Ellysse Dick, ITIF policy analyst and author of the report, said the future adoption of AR/VR ed-tech tools could provide schools with more immersive content and experiential learning opportunities to help close achievement gaps.
“It expands access to opportunity,” she said of its applications. “A virtual field trip isn’t a full replacement for a real-life field trip, but for those students who wouldn’t otherwise be able to visit places that might be a bus ride away for others, VR can give them opportunities to experience some of those things.
“A lot of this is possible right now,” she added. “We talk about the potential, but the technology already exists to do that. It’s just a matter of getting it in the classroom.”
Dick said interest in AR/VR for education had already been rising prior to 2020, when schools and universities adopted digital learning tools mostly out of necessity. According to the report, 85 percent of public school teachers reported seeing “great value” in AR/VR ed-tech platforms in a 2019 survey. Additionally, two-thirds of higher education institutions had either partially or fully deployed AR/VR solutions in 2018.
Dick said cost and content offerings remain two key barriers to the mass adoption of AR/VR in schools, however.
“There are some sticking points that are holding it back. People want to put it in classrooms — teachers, parents and students are enthusiastic, but the [lack of] content is a huge issue. There’s not a lot of relevant content out there,” she said. “Cost is still an issue, and generally, understanding how these technologies can fit into existing curricula and pedagogical approaches really needs to happen before this can actually explode in a way a lot of people would like to see it.”
Though Dick said it could be years until AR/VR tools become commonplace in schools, the report noted several case studies outlining its applications in K-12 schools to date. K-12 instructors now have access to programs like BioDive, a web-based VR platform designed to teach middle school students about marine biodiversity, as well as Project VOISS, a U.S. Department of Education-funded program that uses VR for neurodiverse students to practice learning social skills, among other use cases.
“Gamification, which has been widely shown to be beneficial to learning, is one of the huge advantages of VR and AR in education,” Dick said of current use cases. “That really brings them into the experience and gives them a longer lasting knowledge base for the future.”
According to the report’s case studies, the University of Oregon Center for Applied Second Language Studies launched a Virtual and Augmented Reality Language Training (VAuLT) program in 2018, allowing language learners to practice foreign languages in real-world settings. Oxford launched a VR-based medical simulation platform to practice patient care scenarios, as other institutions explore applications in health sciences.
“I think higher ed is looking good for VR, especially when we talk about things like STEM and medical education and even career and technical education,” she said. “For K-12, it’s a lot more up in the air.”
Thirty percent of parents remain “very concerned” about the potential negative impacts of VR in schools and increased screen time among children, according to a 2018 report by Common Sense Media. Another 2020 study from Perkins Coie and the XR Association named education as the “second most likely sector to be disrupted by immersive technologies in the near future,” indicating some mixed feelings.
Noting concerns about efficacy and adoption costs, the ITIF report recommended funding from the Department of Education for research and development of AR/VR in education, as well as funding for school adoption efforts.
While schools have received billions in federal coronavirus relief funds for technology, Dick said most of it isn’t geared specifically to AR/VR.
“There have been investments in AR and VR, but they’re part of broader ed-tech considerations,” she said. “This sort of technology is at a certain point where we need a concerted effort to bring it into classrooms and to bring it to classrooms the right way.
“The only way to do that is to have the research to understand what that means and to use that research to solicit proposals for targeted investments in the content area, as well as [making sure] the right technology gets into schools.”