Can AR/VR Improve Learning? Integrating Extended Reality Into Academic...

Digital Learning

Can AR/VR Improve Learning? Integrating Extended Reality Into Academic Programs #DLNchat

By Michael Sano     Jul 19, 2018

Can AR/VR Improve Learning? Integrating Extended Reality Into Academic Programs #DLNchat

When educators talk about bringing learning into the real world does that include the virtual world? Proponents claim virtual and augmented reality can enhance learning experiences like we’ve never seen before, bringing students into contact with environments they otherwise wouldn’t have access to. But can mixed reality become too real for the learner? Could it stifle creativity? And should we be concerned, or will the hype fade? On Tuesday, July 10 the Digital Learning Network of faculty, administrators, instructional designers and entrepreneurs got together to discuss how academic programs should integrate AR/VR into the curriculum.

Lloyd Dean reminded us, “AR and VR are always put together but they are separate entities.” So what’s the difference? Chris Johnson put it this way: “AR adds digital information to a physical object or environment. VR digitally recreates the object or environment. Both then let the user manipulate that object to varying degrees.” Jennifer Albat condensed her definitions into a poetically simple equation: “AR = Places objects where you are, VR = Takes you to new places.”

#DLNchat-ters shared how these definitions were coming alive at campuses across the country. Science and technical programs appeared to be leading the charge with examples from University of Memphis, Boise State University, Wichita State University and Northern Arizona University. Tom Grissom pointed out that through such virtual access students “get more reps in,” and that “repetition with immediate formative assessment can shorten learning cycle time and be more effective (and safer in some situations).” At The University of Arizona, shared Ryan Straight, students are being taken to a virtual Harlem as well as studying phobias using virtual spiders.

No matter the discipline, Jeffrey Pomerantz said, “3D tech is good for active and experiential teaching and learning, because it expands the range of activities a learner can gain hands-on experience with.” As more programs implement AR/VR experiences into the curriculum, more research is needed to assess its effectiveness. Christopher Brooks, director of research for EDUCAUSE offered two guiding questions: “What educational activities lend themselves to the use of 3D technologies? And what are the most effective 3D technologies for various learning goals?”

This week’s #DLNchat then posed a different kind of question to consider: could mixed reality experiences become too real? Dr. Straight reminded us, “Brains are easily hacked and fooled.” So what are the potential side effects of VR/AR learning? Clark Quinn posited, “One of the problems is the ‘uncanny valley’, where too real (but not quite) is unnerving compared to less real” and another “potential problem might be ‘escapism’, similar to problems with environs like WoW: people would rather stay in the virtual world.” Maggie Melo also warned about the dangers of virtual harassment. “The Extended Mind surveyed 600+ VR users and found that all genders are subject to different types of harassment in VR.”

So take off those rose tinted headgear; there are serious design questions to consider when creating AR/VR content. One current challenge is ensuring equal access across abilities. Jennifer Rafferty shared an encouraging story about how VR may support learners with autism, but many accessibility questions linger—some that may not even have been considered yet. Dr. Brooks shared that in research with Gallaudet University, their pilot with mixed reality raised a host of issues not previously considered for learners who are hard of hearing. EdSurge’s Aneesa Davenport asked, “Must we rely on the VR tech creators for this or are there solutions instructional design can implement?” For now, Gallaudet seems to be tackling the issues with their own team.

Accessibility will hopefully be better addressed as the creation of mixed reality becomes simpler for a more diverse array of creators–including students. Lloyd Dean said, “Heard a colleague explain today that future tools will be available to create quick and basic VR. Think Wix website design.” Students could then demonstrate their learning both in virtual realities and by creating them. Michelle Miller advised considering coupling VR with conventional tools for assessment. She referenced a project demonstrating “written summaries as part of the VR learning activity and found that this was a critical design improvement for producing learning.” Ready to create a rubric and assess a virtual world? Not so fast. “Difficulty in assessing is same as, possibly, other creative fields like art or writing. Takes longer, it's individualized, etc. These are good things, just harder,” said Dr. Straight. Perhaps grading systems will move into the ether too?

So is the future of learning in AR/VR? Niki Bray expressed a persistent concern shared by other #DLNchat-ters: cost. She said, “My biggest concern is the resources needed to develop and the associated costs. If we can overcome that, this has great potential.” Others shared that sentiment and agreed that it was likely coming very soon. Alex Kluge said, “I think the big hype cycle was in the 1990s. We have gone through the trough of disillusionment and are coming into a plateau of usability.” Dr. Brooks agreed: “Previously, our pedagogical vision was outpacing the technological capacity; I think the technology has not only caught up, but surpassed our pedagogical vision. We're going to need to play catch up,” he said. He also shared some results from the EDUCAUSE 2018 Student Study: “Only 4% of students reporting having access to #AR or #VR headsets. So, we have some time to work on this before it becomes ubiquitous.”

Kristi DePaul articulated her optimism for AR/VR technology a bit differently. “Rather than declaring it the future of learning, I believe XR [extended reality] tech will open up educational possibilities with an impact we haven't yet grasped. And that includes providing firsthand experiences that enhance empathy and compassion.” You might say the future of AR/VR in academia is extended learning.

How do you imagine the future of virtual learning? Tweet our community with #DLNchat to share your ideas! You can also RSVP for our next chat: How Can Competency Based Education Unify Lifelong Learning Experiences? with special guest Charla Long, executive director of the Competency Based Education Network (CBEN), on Tuesday, August 14 at 1pm PT/ 4pm ET. For more topics, check out our index of past chats. #DLNchat is co-hosted by the Online Learning Consortium, WCET and Tyton Partners.

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