Sunday, 25 June 2017

How “Virtual Reality Teaching” could help educate the world.

The Challenge 

One of the greatest challenges for Education in the Twenty-first Century is that there is an ever-increasing divide between the demand for learning and the supply of schooling. This is seen most obviously in the global shortage of teachers, but it extends to the dearth of school leaders, and to the unavailability of schools themselves.
 According to UNESCO (Institute of Statistics, 2013), there are currently 263 million children not in education and the world will need 3.3 million more primary teachers and 5.1 million more lower Secondary teachers by 2030. These statistics demonstrate that we are failing millions of young people. Our current model of teaching with a specialist standing in front of a class of 20-30 pupils is inefficient and unsustainable. We need to find a way to bring education to all. There is no easy answer to this problem, but I believe that “Virtual Reality Teaching” will be part of the solution.

Virtual Reality in the Classroom 

Most are familiar with Virtual Reality (VR) – it is transforming the Gaming industry and it is now finding its way into classrooms around the world. The technology is simple: it works very much in the same way that enabled a previous generation of children to enjoy 3D images through a Viewmaster. The headset projects a slightly different image to each eye, which gives a 3D effect. As the viewer moves his head to the left and right, the image moves giving a strong feeling of being in situ. By turning around, the viewer can see what is behind him; by looking up he can see what’s above him-it’s ‘real’!

What makes Virtual Reality different? 

The greatest difference between VR and, say, watching a DVD is that VR is an active rather than a passive process. It feels like the real experience. Because the viewer is controlling where he looks and what he focuses on, this inevitably leads to greater engagement. Indeed, Virtual Reality allows the user to experience what is going on in a way that feels authentic.

Personalised Learning 

At JESS, Dubai, we use VR extensively in our Primary schools to take children on virtual school trips traveling around the world, back in time and even into space. In the past few weeks at Year 5 have met some ancient Egyptians, Year 4 have been to London, Foundation 2 travelled to Mars and Year 6 went to Ancient Greece. The children ‘felt’ what it was like to be there and the experience helped them to develop mature responses at a significantly deeper level than would ever be possible from watching a video. Possibly the greatest strength of VR is that the experience is personalised – the child is in control of the experience, he can go at his own pace, choosing to look at what he wants, taking time to look for detail, moving on only when ready.

From Virtual Reality to Virtual Reality Teaching 

I believe that Virtual Reality technology is more than just the latest in the long line of technologies which can be harnessed by teachers to help them make their classrooms come alive. It has the potential to be the “disruptor” of education providing access to some of the best teaching in the world to millions of children who are currently not in education.

Proof of Concept: “Virtual Reality Teaching” 

“Virtual Reality Teaching” (VRT) has the potential to allow children in Calcutta to feel as if they are in a classroom at JESS, Dubai. Earlier this year, Steve Bambury, the Director of Innovation and Digital Learning at JESS, conducted a “proof-of-concept” test of VRT. We aimed to give students an immersive experience of being in a classroom, rather than passively watching a Video Conferencing screen. This involved putting a 360-degree camera in the second row of a classroom and running a live stream to a classroom next door where a student wearing a VR headset “participated virtually” in the lesson. The experience of the remote student was not perfect, there was a time delay and some buffering, but he felt like he was in the classroom. This has the potential to be revolutionary. The technical processor speed and network bandwidth issues will be resolved sooner rather than later in accordance with the inexorable progress of Moore’s Law. We are confident that it is only a matter of time that students will be able to attend class at JESS remotely.

“Virtual Reality English Language Teaching” 

The English Language teaching sector is a significant part of the global education industry. According to the British Council figures there were 1.5bn people learning and speaking English in 2014 and it is estimated that this will increase to 2bn people (25% of the global population) by 2020. The Export revenue for the UK’s English Language Teaching (ELT) sector was estimated at £1.2 billion (US$1.74 billion) for 2014 (Source: ICEF Monitor, Feb 2016). The demand for English Language Teaching is only set to increase as English extends its influence as the lingua franca. Virtual Reality Teaching is likely to become an important way in which learners will be able to gain access to the best teachers and interact with native speakers. Potential investors would be well advised to target the Far East in the first instance as this region is quick to embrace new technologies and already is an established market for English Language teaching.

Making “Virtual Reality Teaching” a Reality

"Virtual Reality Teaching" has enormous potential, but it will take more than a couple forward-thinking professionals in the UAE to make it happen. Technological development will have to combine with a robust educational pedagogy. We have a long way to go. 
I suspect that the technological development will come from Oculus, the leading VR company owned by Facebook. Understandably, having recently become a father, Mark Zuckerberg is becoming interested in education and he has the resources to make this vision happen. It is perhaps fitting that he then has the last word: 
“After Games, we’re going to make Oculus a platform for many other experiences. Imagine enjoying a courtside seat at a game, studying in a classroom of students and teachers all over the world, or consulting a doctor face-to-face – just by putting on your goggles at home.” 
This article was written for the English Language Gazette.

No comments:

Post a Comment