Webster's Dictionary defines Virtual Reality as an "artificial environment that is experienced through sensory stimuli provided by a computer." It can be used in a multitude of ways such as entertainment, training programs, flight simulators, psycho-therapy, space discovery, education, and many others. Due to these uses, virtual realities seem to become more and more in demand. In fact, I found over 100 terms to describe various types of virtual realities. Some of these include: avatar, cyberspace, interface, objects (VR), portal, simulator, tracker (VR), virtual prototype, and many others. There are an abundant amount of ways to describe the terminology of virtual realities. To me, they seem to be artificial worlds to learn from and experience.
When it comes to the education world, it virtual realities are starting to be used more and more. Physics teachers use them for simulations, Biology teachers use them for virtual dissections, Chemistry teachers use them to demonstrate molecular bonding, and many others. Being that I'm a science teacher, it makes sense as to why virtual realities are used in my field. As a science teacher, we are trying to teach students about difficult concepts. The best way to teach these concepts is through hands on experiences and visualizations. Being that there is very little money in education, it can be difficult to provide students with multiple dissections or materials to build fan cars. Virtual realities like: Phet, MAVIS, NCSA and others. These have become so popular that iPads even have apps that are useful for dissections such as the frog and rat dissection apps (both I use with my own students!). In my experience, science teachers seem to be the most accepting the use of virtual realities. However, others content areas are coming on board. I happen to know a few social studies and language arts teachers that allow the students to create avatars for presentations.
When it comes to virtual realities, we, as educators, should take advantage of these opportunities to teach our students with tools that make our jobs a little easier. Of course there are negative aspects to virtual realities; however the positive seem to outway the negative. When using virtual realities with students it provides motivation, gives opportunities to show things that you may never get a chance to see in classrooms, encourages active engagement, builds technology skills, meets 21st Century Learning skills, and many more!!
I'm a big advocate for the use of virtual realities, personally and in education. I admit that I'm a huge fan of building a Smurf Village and creating strategies on my TripleTown iPad apps. However, I also love to use them in my classroom too! Since I use them in my class, my students are able to truly analyze organisms, pretend to be doctors, visualize what can happen to environments when keystone species are removed, and many more. Of course, I could just tell my students these things, but to me, that is not learning. As a 21st Century Teacher, it is my job to guide my students to become successful adult by developing 21st Century skills. Virtual realities give me that opportunity!
Pantelidis, V. (2000). Reasons to use virtual reality in education. VR in Schools, 1(1), 9. Retrieved from vr.coe.ecu.edu/reas.html