How AR and VR are Changing Modern Education

Microsoft is making a push in education software game, but Google is already well ahead of the curve. With virtual reality (VR), augmented reality (AR) and mixed reality (MR) entering the consumer phase, students can benefit greatly from this type of technology. I know this to be true, not only because of recent events, but because I have first-hand knowledge of how big an impact VR, AR and MR can have on the learning process.

I was an art teacher for two years of the west side of Chicago, teaching a student body that had never experienced anything outside of their own neighborhood. Granted, Chicago is a big city, but many of my students had never even seen Lake Michigan, even though it was a mere three miles to the east.

Now, it’s not that my students were disinterested in splashing around the shores of a Great Lake, it’s that they simply didn’t have the resources to do so. They were, and are, being raised in an environment that doesn’t provide them with the ability to experience more of the world.

When I started researching VR, AR and MR, the benefits, from a learning and cultural standpoint, were crystal clear. It can allow students to experience things they previously couldn’t, expanding their minds and changing their entire worldview.

I imagined being able to take my students, via VR headset, to Navy Pier. I imagined, with AR mixed in, teaching them about the size, depth and formation of the Great Lakes. I imagined watching them be awestruck at the sheer size of our planet.

Companies like Microsoft and Google that have developed and are developing VR, AR and MR (Microsoft just made its new models available for preorder) have the ability to not only change the way we interact with the world, but these devices can inspire hope in places that desperately need it.

VR, AR and MR in Art Education

Breaking it down even further, VR, AR and MR devices have so much potential in the teaching and learning of specific subjects. I can see it greatly impacting history, science and cultural studies, but, due to my experience, I can see its applications in art education the clearest.

In classic teacher fashion, I wrote up two potential lesson plans that could be used with VR, AR and MR.

READ: An Introduction to AR, MR and VR
A Trip to the Subways of New York

I’ve always been a big Keith Haring fan because of his unique, simplistic figures and expression of social activism. As a result, it was one of my favorite lessons to teach.

VR, AR and MR infused lesson: After giving a brief intro about who Keith Haring was, with a hologram version of the famous artist standing next to me, it’s time to see him in action. We are transported, via headset, to a subway station of New York. With people rushing past, I gather the class together around Haring, who is busily moving his brush against a blank space on the wall. His figures come to life, using well intentioned strokes, until he stands back to admire his work.

Now, it’s our turn. Every student grabs their virtual brush, and after a short demo by yours truly, they find a blank space on the subway wall and begin to create their own Haring-like pieces. When everyone is finished, we stand together in the subway and have our usual critique.

Roaming around Rome

Visiting the Colosseum, Pantheon and St. Peter’s square is such a powerful, awe-inspiring experience. Actually seeing Roman sculptures with your own eyes truly shows the grandeur of their accomplishments, and it’s great from a historical perspective as well.

VR, AR and MR infused lesson: I start the lesson by donning some virtual Roman garb, mainly for comedic effect, then proceed to allow students to create their own outfits for our journey to Rome. After everyone is satisfied with their new clothes, we use our headsets to transport us to the center of the Colosseum. After checking out the lion pits and stunning columns, we shoot over to the Pantheon and St. Peter’s square after that. I point out the sculptures surrounding the square, allowing them to note the intricacies of each detail. Taking it one step further, we jump to the roof, placing us face-to-face with these astonishing sculptures.

Now, it’s time for some fun. Using our virtual brushes, we paint these classic pieces using bright colors and modern themes. Many of these statues end up with neon tank tops and curly mustaches. We capture a virtual images of our collective work to admire back in the classroom.

While these examples are just my interpretation of what VR, AR and MR could do in an educational setting, there are nearly an infinite amount of possibilities. Companies like Microsoft and Google hold the keys to experiences like these becoming a reality, changing the way we teach, learn and interact with the world, creating a better future.

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