My first experience with Virtual Reality came in 1977. It wasn’t VR in the sense that we know it today, but to a 12 year old growing up in a world that included two television channels (three if you knew French) and in a house that only had a small black and white TV, the Star Wars movie at the old Mini Theatre in downtown Moose Jaw was an experience like no other. I became so totally engrossed in that galaxy from far far away that I literally forgot I was in a theatre. I didn’t kneed any awkward cardboard phone holders strapped to my head to feel like I was transported to a different world. Everything in that movie, at that moment, was virtually real to me (don’t judge, I was 12 and for reference the best special effects I had seen in a movie up to then was in King Kong vs. Godzilla). That initial Star Wars experience was awesome for me, and I loved every second of it.
And there lies the problem with VR, MR, and their very close cousin, augmented reality (AR) as educational tools. These alternate reality devices and apps are super cool, fun, addictive and influential. They are loaded with potential and possibilities and they absolutely need to be part of the teachers toolkit in the future as they have the potential to take learning to entirely new levels. What we have to do is make sure the content presented in these platforms is properly vetted. Students need to be able to determine what is real and what isn’t, and with the blending of realities, lines between what is real and what isn’t could become blurry. Hey, I once saw a large furry creature play a magical chess like game against a robot that communicates through whistles and buzzing noises, all while travelling faster than the speed of light!
I know that’s a far fetched example, but the reality is we are now living in a post-truth world where climate change deniers win elections and creationists influence text book content. Who is to say that content in the VR apps is always going to be accurate? Is it possible they could include deliberate misinformation? While scenarios such as these are unlikely, teachers must guard against potential incorrect influences. We don’t know if the people creating these applications have a background in pedagogy or not, and we don’t know what the underlying bias is.
Don’t get me wrong, I love that the possibilities in this area of edtech are truly unlimited, and that when used properly, it could lead to student learning at depths that are far greater than what is currently being achieved. What concerns me is the possibility that the great depth of learning leads to incorrect knowledge influenced by one political agenda or another. Critical thinking needs to be at the forefront of VR use, and not unquestioning compliance.
Your thoughts and comments are always appreciated!