Most people are familiar with virtual reality as a form of entertainment. However, it can also be used for everything from training military members to assisting doctors with patient care. It’s also becoming a vital part of education. For example, students can visit the pyramids of Egypt when studying the pharaohs or the Amazon rain forest when studying South America from their classroom or their homes. Books are amazing, but they can’t offer the same experience to students that walking through the virtual jungle can. VR also allows students to explore more individualized interests; for example, a student interested in Greece can visit ancient ruins on their own. Educators know that not all students learn best from books and worksheets, and the more immersive experiences offered through virtual reality can help students with different learning styles learn more effectively.
VR can allow students to more deeply explore their academic interests and master complicated concepts. Geometry students, for example, can manipulate and examine 3D shapes, while chemistry students can try different experiments in the safety of a virtual environment. VR can also be used to improve students’ cultural and social competence through interacting with people from around the world and acting out tricky situations to improve their social skills. These benefits are especially valuable for students who are neurologically atypical.
VR can also be blended with augmented reality, which overlays digital items on a display of the real world, to create a mixed-reality environment, in which the user can see and interact with both real and virtual elements at the same time. Using mixed reality in the classroom can help students to learn. In fact, a 2019 study revealed that students taking biology in a classroom that used mixed reality earned better grades and understood the subject better than students in traditional classrooms.
However, parents are concerned about how the use of VR might affect their children, and they do have legitimate concerns. The first thing parents need to do is to make sure that they check the suitable age for VR devices and games, just like they would for regular video games. Some headsets aren’t designed to be used by younger kids, and parents should make sure younger siblings aren’t using their older siblings’ headsets. Keep in mind that playing VR games offers an immersive and intense experience, meaning that even games that don’t seem scary on a screen can be terrifying in VR. Parents should use their knowledge of their children’s maturity level and emotional capacity to choose games that are appropriate.
Parents should also implement some safety rules. It’s a good idea to touch a wall after putting on the headset so the user gets oriented in the room. Headsets should only be used in spaces without clutter on the floor and with room to move around. Make sure to use all safety features that the headset offers. Young children should never be left unsupervised while using VR equipment. It’s also a good idea to talk through the experience with your child after the game or lesson ends. Tell your kids that if they get angry, sad, or dizzy or feel sick, they should remove the headset and try again later. It’s also important that parents check the privacy settings of apps and devices. Some games allow players to make virtual friends, and parents will want to watch that closely as well.