Virtual and augmented reality in the classroom has proved to be effective for history and chemistry lessons. However, a new use for these tools is now emerging: teaching computer science.
Currently, one of the few setbacks to integrating virtual reality is a lack of readily available content.
While this may seem like a negative, it opens a new door for teachers to encourage students to explore the world of coding and create their own virtual reality worlds.
Coding skills are in high demand and will soon become a necessary skill for nearly all industries. Since 1990, jobs in science, technology, engineering and math have grown by 79 percent, and are expected to grow an additional 13 percent by 2027, according to a 2018 Pew Research Center survey.
This means it is essential for educators to find a way to engage students early to build their coding knowledge, and virtual and augmented reality platforms may be the answer.
Mixed Reality Platforms Improve Coding Concept Retention
Preliminary scientific evidence has found that using augmented reality platforms can give students an advantage when it comes to learning code.
A study conducted at Georgia Tech found that students who used mobile augmented reality platforms to learn coding performed better on assessments than their counterparts.
“We also melded the missions of coding in education with AR for this exploratory study to see if we could get favorable results in timing tests and user experiences,” said Nathan Dass, a researcher and software engineer at Google AI. “We ultimately found favorable results in timing tests and user experiences overall when learning code and using AR.”
A prominent theory behind why virtual and augmented reality platforms are so effective is that providing interactive, visual examples of coding principles helps students retain what they’ve learned.
“What VR can allow is the creation of a simulated environment to allow people to explore computer science concepts in the same way they interact with the real world,” wrote Pablo Farias Navarro, founder of Zenva, a virtual reality educational platform. “By making these concepts visual, tangible and responsive, we will make it easier for learners to develop skills in the same way they do when they learn a new sport or how to play an instrument.”
Virtual and Augmented Reality Platforms Can Make Coding Fun
Innovations in virtual and augmented reality in the classroom are taking the concept of gamification to a whole new level.
While previously, developers created virtual education applications to engage students in the classroom, new augmented reality platforms put the power of the developer directly in students’ hands.
“The beauty of AR and VR is being able to open up possibilities for your students, including creating their own virtual worlds,” wrote Jaime Donally, an AR and VR educational consultant. “I have seen engagement skyrocket when students are given an opportunity to explore AR applications like 3DBear, where they can be the masters of their own digital universe.”
Right now, there are a number of applications teachers can use in conjunction with classroom virtual reality headsets or augmented reality platforms to help students build their basic understanding of computer science.
When Michael Drezek, a technology integrator at Lake Shore Central School District in New York, initially helped teachers bring virtual reality programs into the classroom, he found they could not keep up with the speed at which students were consuming content.
Using simple tutorials Drezek shared through Google Classroom, CoSpaces EDU offers students a chance to code in a program that is versatile enough to fit almost any curriculum.
“From a teaching and learning point of view, CoSpaces Edu provides a sandbox to become whatever is needed,” Drezek wrote. “This leads to great creativity since it isn’t scripted out for students.”
Tynker, another application, is an augmented reality platform that lets students build AR projects in the classroom and teachers build coding courses around students’ affinities for video games; take Microsoft Minecraft for Education, for example.
Tynker lets students code modifications within the game, ranging from the superficial, like changing the colors of blocks, to the more complex, such as creating their own rules within the digital world.
The mods then materialize on students’ desks when they look through a mixed reality headset.
Technology Companies Invest in AR and VR Education Apps
Technology leaders are noticing this window of opportunity too. Intel recently developed a mobile computer science learning center that incorporates virtual reality to get students excited about computer science.
Intel’s Tech Learning Lab travels around the country to different schools, giving students a chance to explore their creativity through virtual and augmented reality platforms, such as programming, creating and testing virtual robots.
Technology companies see the benefits of blending immersive VR educational applications with computer science lessons, creating a fun and engaging pathway for students to learn important skills they will need when they join the workforce.