By Kraig Klein and Pamela Wong
The Oyster Bay-East Norwich School District received a shipment of Google Expedition virtual reality (VR) headsets for an interactive classroom experience, according to a statement issued by school officials on Sept. 19. The 30 headsets are part of a larger initiative to incorporate VR into the district’s curriculum.
“The opportunity to enhance learning for our students with VR technology is exciting because it provides an immersive experience that they would not be able to obtain otherwise,” Laura Seinfeld, district superintendent, said in a statement issued by district public information specialist and webmaster Felicia Febrizio.
The technology will allegedly enhance the curriculum for students in the district by creating more immersive lessons by allowing students to interact with a digital environment, according to Febrizio. The district has already announced two lessons that will use VR that are themed around surgery and ancient civilizations.
“It’s only the third week of school and we just got this class set of headsets,” Febrizio said. “It’s something that we’re planning…it’s something we hope to implement this year, and [the students] are excited about it.”
Two technology companies, Google and Oculus VR, have established programs to implement VR technology into classrooms. Google began releasing Expedition in 2017 for use in classrooms, while Oculus VR began experimenting with educational applications of VR in 2018.
Some educational experts believe that the technology will improve classrooms.
“Virtual reality allows opportunities to explore the context, environment, or phenomenon that are otherwise difficult to visit or experience,” Dr. Yoo Kyung Chang, a lecturer in Communication, Media, and Learning Technology Design at the Teachers College of Columbia University, said. “[Students] can engage in an authentic learning task in [contexts] that may otherwise [be] difficult or impossible, such as walking through [a] volcano.”
But some concerns about the applicability of VR in classrooms are also part of the conversation.
“Virtual reality may pose challenges to attentional control and sensory overload due to [the] immersive nature of the platform,” Chang said.
VR could also have a negative effect in a non-medical manner. VR may cause parents to fear that Big Brother is watching their children, Dr. Alan Singer, director of Second Education Social Studies and Teaching Learning Technology at Hofstra University, said.
“[VR] adds to a climate of suspicion and incarceration,” Dr. Singer said in an email. “People become afraid to speak because they never know who is listening and the future consequences.”
Students may feel empowered by VR, but could also lose themselves in the fantasies offered by the technology, Professor Decker Walker of Stanford University’s Graduate School of Education said.
“Providing children with agency and creative power is a wonderful thing, even if it is only in fantasy,” Walker said in an email. “Staying in a fantasy world is a real temptation…so, just as we don’t let children play with knives, I think we should guide, limit, and control exposure to fantasy worlds created with computers, and that applies to spades in virtual reality.”
The Oyster Bay-East Norwich School District did not reveal any specific dates for when they expect to begin using the technology. They have already received the headsets but are still designing the program, with Febrizio announcing that the school hopes to start the program in the spring of next year.