Augmented reality (AR), virtual reality (VR), mixed reality—can immersive technology really benefit students and their learning, or are these just tech fads? In their recent edWebinar, Jaime Donally, author, speaker, and edtech consultant, and Michelle Luhtala, library department chair at New Canaan High School in Connecticut, explained that although these technologies aren’t the answer to everything, they are transforming learning and will continue to do so going forward. In addition, while the thought of using these tools can be exciting, schools need to first plan for successful integration into the classroom and curriculum.
First, Donally and Luhtala started by distinguishing the three types of immersive technology. AR takes a view of the real world and enhances it with something digital, while VR is a completely digital experience with no views of the real world. Donally added that having a viewer isn’t always necessary to experience virtual reality; a device on its own can be used too. Last, mixed reality combines augmented and virtual reality, having digital objects interact with objects in a view of the real world. When it comes down to it, Donally noted, it’s not as important to know which experience equals which kind of immersive technology, just that immersive technology is taking strides to be more functional for learning.
Students are using immersive technology to collaborate with each other in ways that are no longer limited by geographic areas or language barriers. In addition to improved collaboration, these tools can help build empathy. Students can experience anything from being in the position of an individual with autism or right in the middle of a hurricane. Schools can even use immersive technology for enhanced safety training and emergency preparedness. And looking toward the future, immersive technology is paving the way for learning in completely virtual classrooms. “360 environments are our future,” said Donally. “The way that we want to interact with people should be the way we interact normally without that technology. We’re seeing a transition into something that feels more realistic in that way.”