Virtual Reality Headsets in the Classroom
Virtual reality, in all it’s fun immersiveness, presents many opportunities for educators and therapists. That being said, I think there are some things educators need to consider. To be clear, when I say “VR” I’m referring to an immersive experience using some sort of goggles or virtual reality headset. There are other types of “virtual reality” that I do not discuss here.
**PLEASE READ** Since this is an emerging technology, it is difficult to say exactly what the side effects and repercussions of its use will be. What we do know is that there are accounts of people with seizure disorders having a seizure while using VR. Always read the manufacturer’s warnings regarding pre-existing conditions. Avoid use with clients that have significant vision or vestibular issues, significant health issues such as heart conditions or seizures.
Many (if not most) virtual reality headsets are not approved for children under 13 (or for children at all)
This surprised me at first but began to make sense the more I looked into it. Many say these age limits are extremely conservative because the long term effects of VR on children aren’t known. Some possible concerns include vision issues, headaches, psychological impact, and technology addiction. Since the impact on young bodies and brains could be detrimental, companies prefer to be cautious rather than face accusations down the road.
Some of these devices have social media access and that can be a huge issue for schools. Oculus Go, for example, is made by Facebook! Our district does not allow Facebook access in any of our buildings so this would be an automatic “no go” for us! Always consider what can be accessed from some of the standalone virtual reality headsets since you’re not able to see what a child is looking at once they have it on.
No worries, there are still some options for the younger kiddos!
There are a few ways that children younger than 13 can experience VR that is safe and approved for the classroom.
This is the setup I’ve used with children 10 and up. It requires an iPod touch (cheaper than iPhones and no wireless account connected to the device) and a MergeVR headsets. The Merge headsets work by sliding a smartphone or device down into the headset. There is nothing electronic built into them. They are soft foam and have adjustable eyepieces that allow for glasses wearers to keep those specs on. The goggles are $29.99 each so my biggest investment was the iPod touch 6th generation. Those can run around $199 for the 32GB. I highly recommend one of the newer versions with the larger screens, otherwise, you can run into issues with the image quality.
Our district’s IT department prefers the iPod touch to a smartphone. I currently only use VR for taking tours in Google Expeditions as part of my school therapy practice. I never have students in VR for more than 10 minutes and the VR experience is always part of a larger activity or discussion.
Other Virtual Reality Headsets for the Classroom
There are some other options out there that I haven’t personally tried. They also vary greatly in price.
This headset is actually approved for 7 years and up. It works with certain iPhones and Android phones and they even sell separate “experience packs” that include educational material from Smithsonian. The viewer alone costs about $12, but remember you also need the smartphone with the compatible app. iPod touch is not listed as a compatible device and you will definitely want to check that the smartphone you use works with this device. I recommend having a conversation with your IT department about using a smartphone device in your classroom.
Pricier but comes with many features that make it ideal for use in a classroom. It includes a carry/charger case for the virtual reality headsets, access to a library of premade educational VR and AR experiences, and a teacher portal. The portal delivers lessons, allows you to lock students into certain scenes, and monitoring what individual students are viewing. The company website directs you to request a quote but I found where a vendor had the price listed at $2,899.00 for a class set of 8. This may or may not be the exact cost. I made a direct inquiry to InclusiveTLC about age restrictions and was told they could be used with children as young as 3 depending on the content (they provide the content and categorize it by age groups/grades).
Better to Ask Permission Than Forgiveness
Always get administrator and parent permission prior to starting any VR programs in your classroom. I also recommend asking the following questions when considering a VR device for your classroom or therapy practice.
- What are the age restrictions listed by the manufacturer?
- How old is this student? What are the screen time recommendations for their age? How much screen time are they already getting at home and school?
- What types of content can be accessed on this device? Is it educational or therapeutic?
- How much control do I have over the content being viewed? Is the child at risk of viewing something inappropriate without my knowledge?
- What are my district’s/clinic’s policies related to smartphone devices, internet access, student data, etc.?
- How much money do I have to spend?
- Where/how will these devices be stored and charged? How will they be kept safe when not in use?
Remember that VR should always serve an educational or therapeutic purpose! That being said, this can be a great way to make learning and therapy immersive and fun.
Feel free to leave comments or questions. I’ve love to know about anybody using virtual reality in classrooms or therapy!