VR Headsets to Potentially Be Used in Classrooms

Pierce College Fort Steilacoom has purchased a small set of VR headsets and is looking for student participants.

The way classrooms incorporate gaming into their courses has been subtle yet effective, so far. Games like Kahoot, an online trivia game, have students scrambling to play during class. Even simple games, such as an educational styled jeopardy on the whiteboard, manage to entice students to engage, both with technology and their classmates.

Video games have influenced the way classrooms are conducted since their creation. New devices are announced annually at conventions such as E3, and this rapidly growing market is beginning to push schools into improving their own technology. Schools are now finding ways to adapt to this ever growing climate.

Pierce College Fort Steilacoom is currently looking to test out virtual reality headsets that have the potential of being incorporated in classrooms such as for STEM and the design programs. Kyle Pierson, an educational technology specialist for the Center for Engagement and Learning, says that Pierce is still trying to formulate plans on how they can be incorporated into classrooms.

“We wanted to introduce new tools to be used in the classroom,” said Pierson. “VRs are an ever expanding and growing field that’s used in K-12, and it’s getting into higher education more frequently – more in the last couple years.”

The Employee Learning and Engagement department has purchased four headsets for the campus and are looking for students willing to test them. With vested interest and time for a trial run, this could bring a whole batch of headsets to certain classrooms in the future. This will be an ongoing experiment at Pierce, as ELAD continues to organize the logistics of it.

VR headsets used for learning is not an unfamiliar concept, but this idea is a fairly recent one for Pierce. While specific classes have not been chosen to use VR headsets, STEM and design programs seem to be the main target audience. Pierson explains how he believes VR can be applied to STEM courses in particular. 

“There’s a lot of stuff about human anatomy, chemistry, space, exploring the ocean, geology – The sciences are pretty easy to apply the headsets to because of all the apps that are already out there, which dive into all these different things that can be used in a classroom.”

People would probably initially not be as comfortable because people have this stigma that that’s not hands on experience. You’re not using things in the material world, you’re not playing with a model. Instead you’re playing with a digital model. So people might feel that you have the skills to it theoretically, but not practically.”

— Justin Hawes, a student at Pierce who’s currently pursuing psychiatry

STEM program students could see a benefit in learning with such technology. Justin Hawes, a student at Pierce who’s currently pursuing psychiatry, shared his thoughts on the usage of VR headsets for the program. “I think that it would be valuable to use VR with things that can be potentially dangerous,” he said.

Hawes explained how VR headsets could reduce in-class risk of injury or harm in places such as science labs, which typically require hands-on approaches. Rather than dealing with dangerous materials physically, it’s possible the risk can be removed by doing so digitally.

While STEM would be using the headsets in ways that allow them to simulate learning scenarios, classes such as design could use them for creating. Instructors such as Leigh Rooney, assistant professor for digital design, have been attempting to garner interest from students.

“I’m thinking of how you can create virtual reality environments,” said Rooney. “There’s also some virtual reality applications or software that you can paint in 3D in VR, which I think is a really cool way to think about design.”

Earlier in October, Rooney sent emails to her students, creating a virtual sign up sheet for the trial run. Rooney believes that the usage of VR headsets can be an exciting and brand new learning tool that Pierce does for future classrooms.

Instructors on campus are seeing the benefit of using headsets for in class learning. But as ELAD continues to work out more of the details on the matter, certain concerns have been mentioned by students, one of them being the cost.

VR headsets within the gaming community may be seen as a gimmick; a fad that has slowly begun losing its steam over the years. And with the cost of headsets ranging between $100 – $400 on average, Pierce could be spending thousands to supply a single classroom of 30 at the risk of it being wasted.

Once a class is supplied, maintaining student’s interest in using the headsets would be the biggest challenge. VR has been around for years and arguably peaked between the years of 2012 to 2016. Nathan Jefferey, a business student at Pierce, wonders himself how exactly Pierce plans to get students to engage with such devices. 

“I don’t think it’ll be like a necessity,” he said. “A lot of students, especially older ones, I don’t think are really going to care for VR headsets.

“Some people already feel like they’re kind of goofy to wear. Even gamers are kind of like, ‘I don’t want to put that thing on’, so I can only imagine someone who’s 30, 40, or 50 years old being asked to wear a VR set.”

Cost and interest aside, other concerns such as hygiene have also been mentioned. “I’m worried about hygienics in general,” said Hawes. “I think that if people are constantly swapping them, how are they going to be handled in that regard?”

Hawes also mentions that others on campus might also be skeptical of the changes that could come from switching to VR. “People are very apprehensive to change,” he said. “I think that because it’s a little different I might be a little wary of getting into it.

“People would probably initially not be as comfortable because people have this stigma that that’s not hands on experience. You’re not using things in the material world, you’re not playing with a model. Instead you’re playing with a digital model. So people might feel that you have the skills to it theoretically, but not practically.”

Despite his fears however, Hawes feels that a problem such as student’s adjustment could easily be mended with the right methods. If ELAD could find a way to have both digital and physical teaching methods conjoin and compliment one another, the usage of VR headsets could be invaluable.

Other concerns such as hygiene, also prove to be less of an issue than feared if handled properly. Most classes at Pierce range around 50 minutes, with many STEM and Design coming close to two hours. On average, students might spend half an hour using the headsets, allowing time for them to be cleaned and properly handled like any other lab equipment.

While these concerns exist, the interest it creates is the main reason that the headsets are going through a trial run on campus. The idea is still young, but discussing both the potential costs and benefits is exactly what ELAD wants.

Pierson spoke on the importance of gathering awareness for the project, as more students interested means for better testing results. Students interested in signing up or learning more about it can do so with eLearning located in CAS 322, as they’re still accepting participants.