High-End VR Units Offer Unique, Immersive Opportunities With Some Drawbacks

High-End VR Units Offer Unique, Immersive Opportunities With Some Drawbacks

One of the aspects of being a teacher in District 66 that I love is the challenge of using cutting-edge technology to help students live and thrive in a world that doesn’t exist yet.  How do we teach students to deal with a world that we can’t possibly predict?  One of the ways we might approach this is by getting them some hands-on time with new and emerging technologies, such as Virtual Reality.  

VR isn’t really new tech, but it has recently emerged into the mainstream with cheaper headsets from Google and Samsung for cell phones.  These offer experiences more akin to a 360 degree virtual movie theater, and are indeed very immersive.

However, there are ways to elevate the unique VR experience by using a headset from HTC called the Vive.  This headset allows students to not just look around the world in a stationary manner, but allows viewers to physically be in a virtual space.  

What this means is that the students are surrounded by a virtual environment, complete with the ability for the headset to track where the viewer is in a scene.  What this means is that once it’s set up, the student can actually walk around in this virtual environment.  

One example is for students to examine whether solitary confinement is an ethical practice or not.  In this example, a student can watch a video or read an article about solitary confinement where the dimensions are given.  However, with the Vive, a student can actually inhabit the space as if they were within a solitary confinement chamber.  They can get low and look under the bed.  They can walk around the entire (small) room and actually experience the space almost as if they are there.  

This is an absolute game changer.  No rules and measurements will ever take place for the experience of being there – and the students can then make decisions based on experience instead of just reading about it.  

There are other examples of the power of VR, including creating virtual art, visiting ancient 3-D rendered places, and visiting art galleries around the world.  These are powerful, unique, and inspiring to students, and I think these are great opportunities for students to experience the world in new ways.

It’s also a way for students into coding and technology to use a cutting-edge, emerging technology so that they can help shape the world of Virtual Reality in the future.  

However, there are some drawbacks.  One is the cost.  Our machine cost around $2,000.  Considering only one student can use the technology at once, that’s a pretty big cost. But this is a machine that will last at least 5-6 years more if it’s taken really good care of! The parts in this machine are modular so a single part can be replaced without having to replace the whole machine so upgrades in the future along with maintenance really makes the price worth it!

The other issue is that the technology is still new and sometimes buggy.  The machine needs to be calibrated for the room, and it needs a fairly large space to use effectively. The positive side about the space is the minimum space required is a 6ft by 5ft and can be easily done in a lot of rooms as long as the furniture is not nailed down! Another benefit of this machine is it’s on a cart and portable as long as you have power in a room it can be moved throughout the building!

Still, it’s a unique experience and one worth trying out.  We have ours set up in our journalism room at the high school, room 255.  If you’d like to come try it out, just let us know and we’d love to have you..