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LEARNING CORNER

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How Augmented Reality and Virtual Reality Can Impact Children's Learning

Education, and the way teachers interact with their pupils, is constantly in a state of flux as institutions look to implement new technologies, research and policies into their own practices. 

Take the computer as a prominent example. As computing power became more proficient and affordable, many schools and universities looked to integrate the new technology into the classrooms, offering students and teachers a new way of accessing and interacting with the curriculum. 

Today, the pace of technological advancement is at an all-time high, particularly since the inception and mass distribution of mobile technology and so-called 'smart' devices. Now students can interact with the subject matter, the world around them and with each other all from a digital device that can fit in their pocket, and the impact this has had on schools and education is profound. 

While the connotations of such devices may initially seem negative, they in fact offer a wealth of benefits when it comes to teaching, particularly in terms of engagement and information retention (and subsequent recall). Technology is now either being designed specifically for, or suitably adapted for, education, and it's improving the way students learn and understand complex subject matter. 

AR and VR

Augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR) are already technologies that are being used in mass market contexts, both very successfully. Before we discuss this utilization however - and how it can apply to education - we should quickly highlight the differences between the two concepts. 

AR is the augmentation of a real-world environment with digital overlays, often via HUDs (heads up displays). This means you can look at the real world, either through a screen (such as a mobile phone or tablet, utilising the built-in camera) or through glasses or goggles. The view is then augmented with digital graphics, displaying information about the world around you without the need to look away. An obvious example is the futuristic displays many high-end cars have, that show your speed and GPS information by displaying it digitally on the windscreen, meaning it's overlaid on the road and you don't need to look away. 

VR however is a completely digital environment, usually viewed through some form of headset. This is completely virtual and shows you nothing of the real world at all, but unlike traditional 'flat' screens, allows you to explore the world in three dimensions, moving around the space and turning your head as you would in reality. 

Both technologies have seen a surge in popularity and usage in recent years, and are now making leaps in the education sector. AR has been used extensively in cars as we've already discussed, but it's also becoming popular in fields such as sports. Skiiers and snowboarders are now able to buy specialized Oakley Goggles that allow the wearer to see their speed, location, altitude, destination, music and even friends all through the goggles, all overlaid onto their normal view of the slopes. The technology is also used heavily in gaming, particularly via smartphones and mobile devices. Take the popular Pokemon Go game, which utilizes AR to immerse players into a digital game overlaid on the real world. Similarly, VR has found a home in entertainment, particularly gaming, films and television. VR films are now available to consumers, and virtual reality gaming has seen an explosion via things like Playstation VR, Oculus Rift and HTC Vive

However, it is perhaps education where this technology can have the biggest impact, and it's already being implemented in some fields. The use of virtual environments for simulated complex medical procedures has been comprehensively documented, allowing medical students to practice surgery and other procedures without needing to worry about potential consequences of a mistake being made. 

Similarly, VR experiences have been designed for university students looking to do exchanges into foreign cultures, with one such program using the popular game Second Life. Taking exchange students in Australia into a specially designed virtual world, they were introduced to the Chinese language and culture in a VR environment before heading over to China on an exchange program. The results of the program showed reduced apprehension, reinforced understanding and better social interaction between the students and their Chinese counterparts. 

When this technology has been introduced into classrooms, particularly through mobile devices and headsets, studies have reported improved collaboration, increased engagement and improved motivation from students. 

Something about VR and AR clearly excites students, making them far more eager to engage with the subject matter, which in turn improve retention and recall, and will surely improve test results over longer periods. As a result, it seems these technologies could be the future of our children's education, and could be implemented from a relatively young age. 

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