Top 7 Purchasing Considerations for Virtual Reality Education

Virtual Reality Education

Virtual reality for the consumer just keeps getting better, cheaper and more accessible. The games are becoming more realistic and immersive. The kids are very excited about the technology. More companies are bringing products into the education space. 

As companies make their push into the education space, they need to understand that there are additional requirements that come into play when moving into the classroom.

Content is king, but it is not the focus of this article. Content that can easily incorporate into your lesson plans is the number one consideration. If the content is not right, then nothing else matters. Among the companies that are providing great virtual reality content, here are considerations for the education space. 

Virtual Reality Education Software has to be more than a Game

1. Look for solutions that are accompanied with subject and grade appropriate lesson plans

We all get super excited about the engagement and the excitement that VR products will generate. We can not be distracted by the shiny penny and overlook the importance of integrating into the lesson plan and providing learning value. 

If a VR product arrives at a teacher's doorstep without information to help integrate it into the course, it adds to the teacher's work load. And raises the possibility that it will not be effectively used.  

When manufacturers make it for easy teachers to integrate products into lesson plans, they will integrate better and have a longer shelf life.

2. Look for solutions that are accompanied with teacher training

This is the difference between buying products and buying solutions. Training builds champions among the teachers. Training will maximize the use of the product. Training will overcome any objections or hesitancy to use the product purchased. Nothing is worse than seeing products sit idle because the teacher is not comfortable or does not have the time to learn how to use and integrate into the classroom.

Virtual reality needs to be embedded in a meaningful way if it is going to work.

Virtual Reality Education Hardware Considerations

3. Hardware solutions have to be durable

Virtual Reality hardware for schools has to last. It can be in the hands of up to 180 students a day and possibly being used 5 days a week. That adds up to over 32,000 touches each year. 

I've heard stories about the short life span of Google Cardboard. Considering the construction material, it is understandable. If you go the Google route, it is probably best handled as a consumable that is purchased for each student with plenty of spares.  

Looking at head set solutions like Oculus and Samsung which are manufactured with plastics, I would expect them last much longer. Few sets can be purchased for the classroom with sufficient spares. 

Computer platforms like zSpace aren't moved or handled in the same way. The glasses provided are durable and inexpensive if replacement is needed. 

4. Hardware solutions have to be cleanable

Kids have germs. it's a serious consideration in a school system where one nasty virus can take down a school. Equipment that is used among multiple students should be wiped down regularly to prevent the spreading of illness. 

This consideration does not bode well for Google Cardboard. The head set solutions which have plastic surfaces will wipe down well. 

Each brand has to be examined closely around the seal that touches the face. Depending on the materials used, keeping the units clean may or may not be a problem. The computer platforms like zSpace do not pose any issue with the computers or glasses used.

5. Hardware has to be attainable

Since many of the virtual reality platforms are originating out of the consumer world, the primary content delivery system is the smart phone. It has not become common place for districts to purchase smart phones in mass for lab use. 

Some districts ban smart phones entering schools all together. If that's not an obstacle, then depending on the age group, the students might have smart phones that can be used. But, that might create another set of issues. 

Computer platforms, like zSpace, do not have this issue. As most computer based VR platforms are multi-use and can serve both a computer lab and virtual reality education. 

6. Hardware has to be locked down

Some of the programs require access to a wi-fi network. Some require limited access to the internet. A school system has to be able to monitor and control the network and internet activity. 

I think IT's head would explode if they had to lock down smart phones. It's another layer of complexity that might result in some pushback. All of the headsets that use a smart phone have to consider the accompanying vulnerability.  

The virtual reality systems that are based on computer platforms, like zSpace, are in good shape. IT departments are quite comfortable supporting PC's and have a lot of experience locking them down.

Virtual Reality Education Software Physical Challenges

7. Beware of solutions that can cause accidents

The technology, with some headsets, is so immersive, that you can get motion sick. No one wants to see barfing in the classroom. Motion sickness is caused by the brain receiving mixed signals from the senses: the eyes are detecting movement, such as walking, in the virtual environment, but the inner ear, which relays our sense of motion and balance, doesn't match up because you are in one spot. I find that the better the system blocks the outside world, the more susceptible someone might be to this occurring. Systems like the Oculus Rift and Samsung VR completely block the eyes from external motions. Desktop systems like zspace do not suffer those types of issues.

Then imagine 30 students in a classroom with blindfolds on wondering around. That’s essentially what you have when using virtual reality goggles. There is going to be a lot of bumping into furniture and people, unless the VR allows you to explore while standing still. It’s fun at first, then it becomes a class management issue. This is specific to the virtual reality hardware and software packages used.  Desktop virtual reality does not have this issue. 

Benefits of Virtual Reality in Education

Let's not lose track that every purchase made in education has to enhance the learning experience in a meaningful way. Virtual reality can address learning in many ways. Virtual reality solutions can help kids become more well rounded because of the experience provided. It can provide access to experiences that most children wouldn't experience first hand.  

In our world of XBOX and PS4, we are competing against video games to be interesting and engaging for students. Look for real world virtual reality created for education to compete.