Real Uses of Virtual Reality in Education: How Schools are Using VR

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I’m attending UB Tech 2017 as I write this. Over the last few days, I’ve been enjoying lot of great breakout sessions, some good keynotes, learning about new and evolving offerings from vendors, and of course, meeting new colleagues and networking.

Yesterday I attending a session titled, “Real Applications of Virtual and Augmented Reality in Education”, delivered by Ben Fineman. Fineman is the NET+ Program Manager for Internet2, where he helps to manage Internet2’s portfolio of cloud based video, voice, and collaboration solutions. He is a respected topic expert who speaks regularly at various national and international academic conferences.

In his session he focused more on schools using Virtual Reality (versus Augmented) which I thought was great since that’s the area where I’ve really been wondering if and when it might begin to make an impact. AR has already picked up a lot since there are plenty of affordable apps, but VR can be pricey to get into, and good VR comes with heavier technology requirements. But apparently there’s a lot going on in the world of education with virtual reality!

A Quick Overview of Today’s Virtual Reality Hardware

Fineman started with an overview of these technologies and some of the key players.

Virtual Reality took what has probably been its biggest step towards public recognition when Facebook bought the Oculus Rift, which had its consumer release in 2016. The Oculus Rift provides High Quality VR for about $500. Another popular high end offering is the HTC Vive, which typically costs a couple hundred dollars more.

On the other end of the spectrum, there is Google Cardboard – dirt cheap (as in $10 – $15 or so), but the experience is pretty weak. Nevertheless, many K-12 schools have been using Google Cardboard as an affordable introduction to the world of VR.

Some other offerings include the Gear VR (2015), which also uses the phone, but provides a much better experience than Cardboard, and Playstation X, a proprietary offering that requires you to have a Playstation. Windows 10 VR is just starting to ship (or should soon), so that may become another player in the market.

To provide some sense of the scale of sales of these devices, Fineman noted that Gear VR sold 2.3 million units in 2016 vs 355,000 Oculus rift.

Fineman also noted that AR and VR are, “different ends of the same spectrum”.

In 2016, the Gartner Hype Cycle, which uses a set of phases to describe the life cycle of new technologies, showed AR falling into the “Trough of Disillusionment”, while Virtual Reality was just climbing out of it.


Fineman went on to offer examples of applications and ways that schools are using them, sprinkling in specific examples of schools doing this. If you are interested in VR as an instructional application, there are good examples here.

Virtual Fields Trips

  • The Arlington Science Focus School in Arlington, VA is using the Oculus Rift to take their students on virtual field trips to places like the the Smithsonian Museum (the Smithsonian actually has a bunch of different virtual tours, using a variety of technologies)
  • Titans of Space offers a tour of the solar system, great for some science classes
  • Google Expeditions is getting a lot of attention with their growing library of field trips
  • Go back to the time to the Jurassic Age (search “Jurassic Age Virtual Reality” to find a variety of apps)
  • Go back to the time to the Jurassic Age (search “Jurassic Age Virtual Reality” to find a variety of apps)
  • Another interesting example was college students identifying hazards on a job site using VR, avoiding having to be in a dangerous situation in order to learn

Content Creation

  • Gaelscoil Eoghain Ui Thuairisc school in Carlow, Ireland is recreating historic sites with Mission V 3D modeling software
  • Drury University in Springfield, MO has been teaching architecture design using virtual reality tools

Special Education

  • The Jackson School in Victoria, Australia has been using the Oculus Rift to help students with special needs
  • Silesian University of Technology in Silesia Poland is doing therapeutic exercises with autistic students using virtual reality technology

Medical Uses

  • UCLA is training neurosurgeons using their “Surgical Theatre” (learn more in this video)
  • Chu Angers University Hospital in Europe is stimulating patients brain during a medical procedure
  • Case Western Reserve is using VR to teach virtual anatomy (you can do a lot of things with VR that you can’t do with cadavers)


Virtual campus tours available on the web are being evolved to work on Augmented Reality platforms. A couple popular platforms for this are You Visit and Georama.

The University of Michigan is using VR to let potential football playing students experience what it’s like to experience being on the field in a full stadium.

New Pedagogies

  • Mendel Grammar School in Opava City, Czech Republic is teaching students about the anatomy of the eye in biology classes with the Oculus Rift
  • St. John’s School Boston, Massachusetts is using Minecraft and VR to create immersive experiences
    Penn State University in Pennsylvania is training students to do things in the virtual world as a precursor to doing it in the real world, increasing the efficacy of learning
  • University of British Columbia in Vancouver is experimenting with virtual lecture halls

While wrapping up his fascinating presentation, Fineman discussed the evolving potential for VR and AR as a collaboration technology using avatars and mapped facial expressions. As another example of the future of AR, he mentioned Microsoft’s developing holoportation applications, which can allow people to holographically “teleport” and interact.

Clearly the future of Augmented Reality in education is very exciting and full of potential. We are only at the dawn of this powerful technology – I can’t wait to see what is to come!

Fineman suggested that interested people join this Internet2 Metaverse working group to participate in an ongoing dialogue about these evolving technologies:

The original presentation is available here:

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