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How virtual reality, augmented reality and mixed reality could be used in education

Christina Mercer | Feb. 1, 2017
The biggest barrier to full adoption of these technologies in education is cost

Speaking at Bett in London last week, University of Leicester's educational designer, Terese Bird described how important emerging tech is in the medical field. Bird highlighted how VR videos of real life surgery could help medical students understand how the body works and the steps taken in any surgery.

Away from medicine, university courses such as architecture and those requiring technical drawings would definitely benefit from VR. Architecture students could see in real time how their designs could work, or not work, what need changing and how it could look in the real world.

VR in education: pros and cons

The main drawback of VR is price and accessibility. Some universities and schools might not want to dedicate a large chunk of their budgets to such an emerging technology while others will not be able to afford it at all regardless.

If the consumer prices of VR units are much to go by, equipping one or more departments at a university, or subjects in a school could be hard to justify.

Another drawback is content, specifically the applications that will run alongside the VR hardware. While there are various VR videos on YouTube and a lot of apps available for both iOS and Android, a lot of this content is not high quality or made specifically for educational purposes.

However, there are a handful of companies out there that offer both the hardware and educational content for schools, and it's these companies that could make VR more accessible to schools.

"The most complex side of VR is the content itself. We make the content from zero, entirely in-house and we have subject specialists who go through a visualisation process and then programmers who try to make that happen," said Colin Bethell, director at classroom VR firm Veative, speaking to Computerworld UK at education technology conference Bett last week.

But while the 'package deal' approach will appeal to some schools as it offers convenience and tailored content, the cost could out-price a large number of schools.

Even though VR units are likely to come down in price, until then mass use of VR in the classroom or lecture hall will be limited, if there at all. But that's not to say some early adopter establishments won't invest in VR and take advantage of its powerful interactive learning.

It seems the most realistic or attainable form of VR will come in cardboard form. In secondary schools, most students will have a mobile phone and Google Cardboard, for example, cost about £5 each, which is a long way off other options.

How could augmented reality be used in education?

Augmented reality overlays computer-generated images and videos on a real-time environment by using markers such as a movement, barcode or physical object that will act as a trigger and a method of interaction that the user is seeing 'on screen'.


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