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Within weeks, the coronavirus (COVID-19) changed the way we deal with everyday habits, from work to study. Among the most affected by the pandemic are students and teachers, forced to stay at home because of the closure of schools in many countries.
According to UNESCO, an unprecedented number of children, young people and adults do not attend schools or universities because of COVID-19. To date, schools have been closed in around 90 countries, involving nearly 800 million pupils and students.
As schools around the world close and organize online lessons to mitigate the spread of the virus, institutions are realizing the technological backwardness of our educational systems. On the other hand, the current crisis can accelerate technological evolution in schools too, transforming the way millions of students are trained.
Ongoing changes will encourage new examples of innovation in education and, although it seems too early to understand how COVID-19 will affect education methods, it is desirable that the "organizational shock" we are facing while living this emergency has a long-term impact on the digitization processes of schools.
In order to slow the spread of the virus without stopping training programs, for instance, Hong Kong students started studying at home via interactive app. In China, 120 million Chinese had access to study materials through live television broadcasts.
But the new frontier of distance education seems to be Virtual Reality, which more than others promises effectiveness in students’ learning and involvement.
This educational approach offers countless advantages: Virtual Reality is able to transport students to other worlds, promoting a high level of understanding. And it does so by using different levers.
Without replacing textbooks, but rather alongside them, Virtual Reality allows students to live immersive experiences, keeping their attention focused for a longer time. Between an experiment in a virtual laboratory for the chemistry lesson and a "time travel" for the history one, the hours spent at school become more interesting for kids, bringing the level of participation to a higher degree.
If Albert Einstein claimed that "Learning is an experience, everything else is just information", let's imagine what it would be like for a child to be transported to the Forum of Ancient Rome, at the center of the Solar System or in the presence of the great William Shakespeare. By "living" the experience, he would never forget what he has just learned. In addition, Virtual Reality can also prepare people for manual work, teaching them technical and practical skills.
Technology has undoubtedly transformed the last generations. In order to learn, digital natives need the tools suitable for their mental form. Since most kids today are naturally comfortable with digital technologies, Virtual Reality can only be the natural extension of their school experience. A rewarding and positive experience that will be difficult to give up.
With Virtual Reality education, the student is finally the protagonist. He has the power to make choices, make decisions and adapt to the alternative universe that is proposed to him. In this way, the kids’ creativity is trained and their curiosity stimulated. In addition to the assimilation of knowledge, lessons in Virtual Reality will therefore also stimulate reflection and reasoning.
In Italy there is no shortage of excellent examples of how Virtual Reality is exploited in education. The H-International School, a training center located on the H-Farm campus near Treviso, combines normal teaching with Virtual Reality lessons. Thanks to a technological platform in Virtual Reality, teachers are able to integrate traditional teaching with immersive lessons in anatomy, astronomy, physics, chemistry and potentially much more.
The platform was born (and continues to develop) as a versatile virtual laboratory, available to teachers for different disciplines. In practice, this didactic system in Virtual Reality gives the possibility to recreate a virtual laboratory for each subject, allowing kids to interact with each other and with the professor. Using virtual reality viewers, students are in fact immersed in digital environments in which they can see and perceive themselves in space; using their hands they can also interact with objects, grasping them, moving them or performing other actions.
The potential of an educational platform in Virtual Reality, of course, also concerns remote study. In a historical moment in which solutions are being put in place to overcome the limitations on travel and aggregation - such as smart working for companies - it is urgent to think of new technological tools also for remote teaching. Applying Virtual Reality to the field of education is a road to be taken seriously now.
The most immediate scenario is that of creating virtual classes in which students share the same digital environment and participate in the same lesson together. In critical times like the current one, new technologies suggest the way to continue going to school even when schools are closed.