Educational Technology: What the heck is VR/AR/MR???

Elementary students take virtual field trips with Google cardboard glasses.

This week I am excited to explore the world of virtual reality (VR) and how it relates to the online and blended educational learning.  I had no idea that there were three different options of interactive technology! According to Wikipedia, VR is an ‘interactive computer-generated experience taking place within a simulated environment’ or, as stated in an article by ‘The Medical Futurist’, VR shuts out everything else completely to create an entire simulation. 

A second option, augmented reality (AR), is similar to VR in that the virtual information is superimposed over a live camera feed into a headset, so the user sees a virtual 3D object projected into a real environment.

There is a third option called, mixed reality (MR). MR is more similar to AR because it projects the content onto the real environment, however unlike AR, it actually interacts with the world.  For example, while AR can soon project the price of an apartment on the building in front of you, MR first senses what is around and then projects the requested data according to your environment.

This is an example of MR; playing ‘Minecraft’ using a pair of ‘Microsoft Hollow Lens’

I’m going to concentrate on discussing VR applications to education because that is what is most widely available at this point. In Virtual Reality or VR, visual and auditory feedback is combined into an immersive environment so that the user is able to ‘look around an artificial world, move around in it and interact with virtual features or items’. A student can access VR technology using a special headset which may or may not have hand controls. There are even controllers with sensitive ‘haptic systems’ which allow the user to ‘feel’ solid objects through transmission of vibrations and other sensations.

The use of VR in education seems like the next step in technological trends of ‘immersive instruction’ and has application across all levels of education from the elementary student to post-secondary adult learners.  In an article written by Nick Babich titled, How Virtual Reality Will Change How We Learn and How We Teach, two current problems in traditional approaches to education are identified: first that education is based on the same old format of fact retention, and second that many people have problems comprehending information.  He goes on to state that educators have to teach in a way that ensures that students learn, and that VR may hold the answer.

VR can function to boost student learning and especially engagement because it transforms the methods in which educational content is delivered.  Babich states, “VR works on the premise of creating a virtual world – real or imagined – and allows users to interact with it.  Being immersed in what you’re learning motivates you to fully understand it.  It’ll require less cognitive load to process the information.”

In VR students are able to have new experiences, explore topics and see how things are put together; they are actually able to learn about a subject by living it!  In VR the body fully believes it’s in a new place, so this further engages the mind in completely new ways.

Students can learn by doing, which is a well-known ‘authentic’ way of learning new information.  VR can boost creativity through programs such as Tilt brush which is a 3D painting VR app developed by Google.  For visual learners, education is enhanced by actually seeing the topics that students are learning about, or by having the ability to visualize complex functions or mechanisms. 

In an article titled, K-12 Teachers use Virtual and Augmented Reality Platforms to Teach Coding, the author, Eli Zimmerman identifies ways in which immersive AR and VR educational applications can build computer skills.  Zimmerman states, “Coding skills are in high demand and will soon become a necessary skill for nearly all industries”. 

The educational applications for VR are endless such as virtual field trips through google expeditions, or high tech training such as military or healthcare.
Group learning is facilitated through the use of VR.

In a group learning environment, VR facilitates social interactions by allowing the user to use am avatar and mapped facial expressions so people can discuss and learn from each other.  Educators and students can even be in the ‘same room’ so interactions can be lifelike.

Babich lists 5 properties that a good VR educational experience should have:

  1. Immersive – Users should feel they are part of the experience.
  2. Easy to use – Shouldn’t require steep learning curve.
  3. Meaningful – VR experience tells a story, and stories inspire and elicit action, therefore is a superior way to deliver learning.
  4. Adaptable – VR experiences should allow users to explore at their own pace.
  5. Measureable – Every educational tool should contain some means to measure impact.

One main drawback of VR technology is definitely the cost factor. The VR Occulus Rift and Touch System costs about $450 CAD, and the MR Microsoft Hololens runs a staggering $4000 CAD! Cheaper VR headsets, such as the cardboard ones depicted in the top picture are widely available and even DIY, however the VR experience is not interactive. Another drawback that is not talked about much is the resultant ‘motion sickness‘ during use. According to one website, 25-40% of VR users experiences this. This is due to the body thinking it’s moving when it’s actually stationary (in a chair). This will improve as VR technology is moving to wireless in the near future. One other downside is that there are not many VR programs available yet, but I’m sure this will change quickly as this field is exploding right now.

I am very happy to share my personal and professional story of creating an educational online ‘dressing change’ nursing skill program with a local media company.  It has taken my two colleagues and I about 3 years of working with the media designers and programmers to create this game which will be a program offered ‘free for use’ online. 

I am ecstatic to say our program is now being converted into a VR experience!  My colleagues and I even got to trial our game in VR last week and are thrilled with the results so far!  It should be available for use by nursing students in the very near future.  One concern that I have is that it will only be compatible with the Occulus rift VR headset, which is quite far out of the price range of most adult students.  We are hoping to secure funding so we can obtain a few Occulus Rift headsets for our students’ use.  There are a few other programs at Saskpolytech currently looking into creating VR educational experiences so it would make sense to have a few onsite.  This is a truly fascinating educational technology that has endless benefits for in-class, blended, and online learning! I can’t wait to see what the future holds!


8 thoughts on “Educational Technology: What the heck is VR/AR/MR???

  1. Awesome. I am excited to enter into this ‘world’ as well. We do have some cardboard ones that are ok, but I’m trying to get a set of Oculus Gos which are a step down from the Rifts but have lots of content available. I’d love for the social 9 kiddos I have to be able to go on ‘virtual field trips’ and get the immersive experience you just can get from a video. Soon holograms with be available and Obi Wan will be our only hope. Would love to see some screenshots of the dressing experience you created. Sounds super cool. Thanks for sharing

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks Dean – Loved the Star Wars reference! 😉 I’m still learning about all the different VR options and will have to check out the ‘Oculus Gos’. This is an exciting frontier in edtech, and will definitely yield improvements to engagement and learning for students!


  2. What a cool idea! I have heard of the VR and AR models before but their applications to education are new to me. It would be so much more engaging and realistic for students to learn in this manner. It’s very interesting to hear that Saskpoly is using this form of technology and moving towards more advanced techniques. What are your hopes for this application? How will it help the nursing program? I can only imagine the possibilities and it is very exciting! Thank you for sharing!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hello Shelby, I was so impressed with the VR conversion of our program and simultaneously excited to share with our students, imagining their engagement and learning possibilities! I can see more skills, not only in nursing education, that are usually taught in a ‘hands-on’ manner, being taught in this way, because VR is so interactive. Learning occurs for all styles of learners using VR, so implications for information retention and authentic learning are huge! Thanks for your kind comments.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Dear Loreli,

    Wow. What an informative post. I really enjoyed when I read it. Thank you so much. As you said the cost of it would be problematic. Anyway,
    Congratulation for your program and I am so happy to hear that nursing students are going to use the game in the near future. I wish you the best. Good Luck.


    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks Hosna, there is an amazing amount of information out there in regards to VR and related technology! I find it so interesting and has especially exciting educational applications. It really makes learning fun!


  4. Kristina Boutilier

    Congratulations on your program! That is a huge accomplishment! Great post. I really liked how you introduced the topic and gave us some context. I think VR in education would be so amazing, but like you said it is so costly. I hope in the future it is another “normal” like projectors are now. Years ago they were few and far between, now every classroom and even the gym has one!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks Kristina! Great cost comparison to projectors in the classroom – you are so right that every classroom has one now. I’m impressed that your gym has a projector – that’s awesome! I hope that like most new technology, the cost will come down, or that most education facilities will incorporate the cost of technology into their budgets as a priority.


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