Apr 08, 2021 2021-04-08
By Julie Ahern
Let’s not just read about the Eiffel Tower, let’s go there!
When I was in fifth grade, I remember my teacher showing us pictures from his summer European travels. It was amazing to me to see such incredible structures like the Eiffel Tower and the Roman Colosseum. Our teacher did a wonderful job of sharing what these locations were like but I remember wishing I was there.
Education has for many years involved textbooks, worksheets, and teachers who worked diligently to make the subjects come alive. Now, as a veteran teacher of nearly 30 years, I am amazed (and delighted) at how many exciting digital tools we have available. These tools have especially assisted remote teaching during the pandemic for the past year by bringing engaging and ‘wow factor’ experiences to students.
Immersive technologies have made their way into classrooms and businesses. My students are learning about the potential uses of virtual reality (VR), augmented reality (AR), and mixed reality (MR)—all immersive experiences.
Immersive technology is any technology that extends reality or creates a new reality by using 360 degrees of space. This area may include the experiences below:
Immersive Technology in Education
I can only imagine if back in fifth grade my teacher would have handed out VR headsets and shared that we were going to visit the Eiffel Tower! This is all possible now. VR and AR bring experiential learning and engagement to students. Immersive technology can prepare our students for future twenty-first century careers.
There are inexpensive, cardboard VR headsets available for teachers to introduce VR to their students. When I showed my remote classes the Merge Cube (an AR experience) in action this school year it was a goose-bump moment. This was done by holding my iPad screen towards the computer and holding the Merge Cube behind it. One hundred percent of my students either had their mouths open or brought their faces very close to the screen. We were looking at landmarks in Paris including, of course, the Eiffel Tower.
Resources for Bringing Immersive Reality to Your Classroom
VR Headsets: There are a number of headsets available that range from $10 to $600+. The lower-priced models work once a phone and app are set up inside the headset and the higher-priced headsets, such as the Oculus, can work with Wi-Fi.
Augmented Reality Tools: There are many tools for teachers to introduce augmented reality to their students. The Merge Cube is a great way to introduce augmented reality. Here’s a great list of AR tools for the classroom.
Mixed Reality Tools: Mixed reality is making its way into classrooms. A study by Microsoft showed a 35 percent increase in student engagement and retention when learning with immersive and 3D technologies. By wearing MR headsets/glasses students can virtually dissect a frog, visit planets, view the human heart layer by layer, and so much more.
Of course, students still need to learn the basics of reading, writing, and arithmetic. Yet, in the future, jobs will exist that we can’t even imagine yet due to disruptive technology. We only need to think of industries and jobs in the past that simply do not exist anymore (VCR repairman, street lamplighter, video store clerks) to imagine what the future will hold as far as careers and industries go. We need to reexamine what skillsets our students can develop now so they will be highly qualified and ready to adapt. Some industries are already using immersive technologies to meet with others across the globe for shared experiences. Let this exciting new journey begin in our classrooms!
Julie Ahern has taught at Andrew Cooke Magnet School in Waukegan, Illinois, for 27 years in her hometown. She has felt driven to provide her students with tools to succeed in an ever-changing work environment. A book entitled Ideas to Transform Your Classroom was published and includes a chapter written by Julie that shares her journey. You can also find more from Julie on Twitter.