Immersive technologies such as virtual reality and 3D scanning are becoming so hot that educators across the country are beginning to roll them out for students of all ages.
The problem is that, while technologies blending elements of the physical and digital worlds in simulated environments offer enormous academic value, too many institutions fall prey to what I call the “buy it and forget it” approach.
This is a syndrome where administrators and others with purchasing power in educational institutions become so enamored with the novelty of new technology they decide they just need to have it — even if they do not completely understand why.
In our personal lives, we are all prone to this behavior. A few years ago, for example, I recall seeing many people getting excited about the glitzy 3D television sets on store shelves in Costco.
They dropped thousands of dollars, loaded them onto carts and proudly wheeled them out the door to their eagerly awaiting families. Only later did many of these customers realize they would need better 3D headsets to have a passable viewing experience, and there was not much 3D programming on the air to justify the money they spent.
Education technology purchasing is similar. Schools and universities have an unfortunate track record of laying out billions of dollars on bleeding-edge technologies that never quite take off and, as a result, never get used for any truly meaningful academic purposes.
As education professionals, we cannot afford these types of wasteful mistakes with immersive technology because there is just too much at stake — too much opportunity to enhance, enrich and accelerate learning in unprecedented ways. For immersive technology to get there, it is vital to have a strategic plan that identifies why it is being considered, whom it will benefit and what metrics will be applied to demonstrate success.
Your plan should ultimately address how much students will learn because of this technology, rather than in spite of it. Once an organization has a plan, knows roughly which technologies it needs and how they will be applied, then it is time to consider how to deploy them most effectively. Here are three tips to help:
1. Prioritize Great Digital Content to Increase Impact
As with 3D TVs, a key to using immersive technology effectively is having plenty of content for it. But publishers are typically a few years behind the adoption curve, and most have been focused on creating immersive experiences that mirror what younger generations experience in their personal lives, meaning they are more about entertainment and games than true education. Publishers will eventually improve their offerings, but universities do not have to wait.
The beauty of immersive technology is that it enables professors and students to collaboratively create their own digital learning scenarios. For instance, suppose a biology professor has a physical model of a human heart that he or she can separate into pieces. With existing technology, this professor can scan each of those pieces into a computer and share the digital objects with students who can then handle and even 3D-print them.
Suddenly, you are not only teaching students about organs; you are creating a lasting, digital learning exercise that can be shared in future projects. Students will have constant access to freshly created, fully interactive and remarkably compelling projects that can be shared, discussed and worked on with hundreds of other students through global digital communities.
2. Tell Stories More Simply Through Interactive Experiences
Storytelling is one of the oldest and most effective learning tools we have ever known. If you make it part of immersive technology, you can amplify educational opportunities in incredible ways.
Not so long ago, I remember hearing how young students were beginning to do class presentations using Microsoft PowerPoint. While many of us might be exhausted by slide presentations now, at the time of their inception, the technology felt pretty novel.
Today, we have a powerful opportunity to put immersive technology to work as a tool for telling compelling and memorable learning-based stories in the classroom. Imagine, for example, a history professor trying to describe what life was like in ancient Rome.
Rather than simply projecting a few photographs shot decades ago of the ancient ruins of Pompeii, it would be just as possible to illustrate how families lived with a virtual tour, walking students through the ruins of a home, progressing down the cobblestone street to the site of a market, stable, doctor’s office or spa.
3. Do Not Forget to Invest in Professional Development
One of the most important things I can tell you about deploying immersive technology in institutions is that you shouldn’t do it alone. There is too much room for error. As a rule of thumb, plan on spending $1 on professional development for every $1 budgeted on technology. This is a very new field, and you should not leave adoption to chance. Bring on experts.
Maximize the odds your deployment will be successful by tapping the experience of others. In the long run, all these tips should help educators apply immersive technology in ways that will stimulate students to be more engaged and truly shine. It all starts with a strategic plan. If done right, the only limit to success will your imagination.