Virtual Reality Teachers are on Their Way

Ever wondered what it would be like to be taught STEM in virtual reality (VR)? If so, what form would it take? Scientists from the University of Copenhagen have been investigating the possibilities. Interestingly, they have found that boys learn better when their VR teacher is a drone, but girls learn better when taught by a female VR character.

VR is here to stay

Given the advancement of computer processing power and supporting technologies, VR is a rapidly expanding area of STEM. There are many mind-boggling applications of the technology. And according to a recent article by Futurism, although VR isn’t perfect, it’s something we’ll definitely see more of.

In that article, David Ewalt, a writer and journalist who focuses on new technology, stated, “I think we reached that tipping point where you can try the products we have now and say, ‘damn, that really works. VR is real.”

What about VR in education?

Imagine if you were discussing a scientific discovery in class, and you could go back to that time and place using VR! Or what if you could view and interact with the microscopic world, explore space, conduct dangerous experiments, or dive to the depths of the ocean, using VR? Or what if you could experience a STEM career first hand with VR? These are some of the possibilities.

Or VR may be a way of ensuring quality STEM teaching. Interestingly, it’s already being used in teacher training. For example, the University of Buffalo has developed a programme, known as VR-Teach, that gives pre-teachers opportunities to learn how to deal with difficult situations in the classroom. By means of VR technology, teachers enter a virtual classroom and face classroom challenges, such as students yelling or playing on their phones. They then need to negotiate these challenges.

In some schools, such as Cecil Hills High School in Australia, students have been using Google Cardboard – a simple foldable cardboard device that uses a person’s phone to create a VR experience – to go on VR excursions and engage with enriching learning experiences.

Drones and VR teachers named Marie

Now the question has been raised, what if teachers themselves were VR? What form would that teacher take, and does it matter? Research from the University of Copenhagen suggests that the potential benefits gained are very much dependent on the VR method chosen.

According to Daily Science, in a study of 7th and 8th-grade students, the researchers found that ‘girls learned most in the VR-simulations when the VR-teacher was a young, female researcher named Marie, whereas the boys learned more, while being instructed by a flying robot in the form of a drone‘.

Why exactly this is the case, psychologically speaking, is an ongoing area of the research. Nevertheless, the study hints at possible ways to make VR-based STEM learning more appealing, especially to girls. Given that VR can be more effective than regular classroom teaching, and VR will be included in everyday classroom teaching for around 15 million students across many nations before 2025, improving how it is delivered is a positive step.

What do you think?

Would you prefer a VR teacher? If so, what type of VR instruction would be best? Or would you prefer a good old-fashioned human teacher?

Your preferences may well determine the future of STEM education!