May 25 2021

Q&A: Virtual Reality Considerations in the Post-Pandemic World

Jaime Donally, founder of ARVRinEDU, explores how K–12 schools can get the most out of augmented and virtual reality technology in the classroom.

When school districts around the country went virtual last year, educators and students alike were faced with technology for continued learning that they didn’t know how to use. For Jaime Donally, the learning curve wasn’t quite as steep.

As the founder of ARVRinEDU, Donally has been dabbling in the virtual world since she was first introduced to the technology. She began as an instructional technology specialist in 2012 and founded ARVRinEDU four years later. Her goal has always been to bring classrooms into the virtual world in some capacity. Now that schools have been operating virtually for 14 months, she has a few ideas about where they can go from here.

Donally, one of our 2021 K–12 IT influencers, spoke with EdTech about altered realities, where she expects the technology to go next and what schools should think about.

EDTECH: What do we mean when we say “augmented” reality versus “virtual” reality?

DONALLY: Augmented reality uses your real-world experiences. You’re going to see your space as you look through your camera or your glasses or whatever technology you’re using, and you’re going to see a digital element added to the space. AR is taking your real world and layering something in addition to it or around it.

Virtual reality is looking at a completely immersed, 360-degree experience. So, you have a 360 photo or video, and through your mobile device or high-end headset you get fully immersed in it and completely separate from what’s happening around you. VR is completely digital.

Then there’s also this collision of immersive technology, and that is where you have things like AR portals. You can walk into these augmented reality portals and be in a 360 experience, and when you walk through, now you’re in virtual reality.

RELATED: How are K–12 schools innovating with emerging technologies?

EDTECH: What AR and VR tools did you expect to see skyrocket during virtual learning?

DONALLY: Something I wish would have been a little bit more heavily used would have been virtual spaces. There are several applications that can take you into these virtual spaces on your computer, on your mobile device or on your headset — really on any web-enabled device — but it’s essentially using your browser to make connections in these virtual spaces. I think we’re beginning to see the educational aspect of learning in these types of forums and using the devices we already have available to us.

This is a really effective way to connect with students in your classrooms as well as invite others in if you want to. I think there are some wonderful ways we can use that if you are remote — or even if you’re not remote, even if we are face to face today — there are still so many ways that we could be connecting with one another and connecting with other classrooms and other educators around the world in a much more realistic way. You hear each other differently, you see different gestures, you actually see opportunity for creation in these virtual spaces.

EDTECH: How do you feel educators and students will use AR and VR technologies as they return to the classroom?

DONALLY: I think there will be resistance to technology when they get back into the classroom because they were so overloaded and overwhelmed. And I think that’s justified.

Technology shouldn’t take the place of being in person. Technology should give us the opportunity to have in person experiences, and more. That’s where balance is going to come into play: They need to realize that the technology shouldn’t be used just because they can’t see each other face to face, the technology needs to be used because this is a learning experience that is impossible without it.

If your goal is to accomplish a task, sometimes that requires technology, sometimes it requires hands-on, sometimes it requires technology and hands-on. So it’s identifying why you’re using it, instead of just, “I want to do AR and VR.” Why do you want to do AR and VR? Because sometimes that’s the right choice. Sometimes that’s going to give you the best experience for your students, but sometimes it’s not, so you really need to identify what the point is of using this technology.

DIVE DEEPER: How will post-pandemic classrooms look in K–12 schools?

EDTECH: What else do K–12 schools need to know if they want to get started with AR and VR?

DONALLY: There are very specific use cases for VR headsets, and most of the time it’s not appropriate to bring them in. If you’re looking at a VR headset for the wow factor, you’re going to run into a lot of complications. I typically don’t recommend them unless them is very targeted for a specific group, for a specific reason. Schools have to have the space to manage those devices, and users need training on the devices’ capabilities for what they want to accomplish with that tech.

I think tablets have the flexibility to do some incredible things, especially the latest technology. A lot of people say, “Let me put it in a viewer. I need something that will fit in a viewer.” Well, that gets old so quick. You do it a couple times, and then you’re tired of taking it in and out to push the button. What I typically do is, I’m twisting and turning and looking around. I feel like the flexibility to do some great experiences with AR and VR is there.

It doesn’t just end with AR or VR; with any purchase, the school needs to think bigger than a single technology. When you have one company that essentially is running the show for that whole device, and that’s your only vision in using AR or VR, that’s when you run into problems.

What’s really important is having community. I love the ARVRinEDU community. We collaborate on social media, so if you use that hashtag, you’re going to follow companies, people, educators, consultants — everybody’s coming from different places around the world with different experiences. My recommendation is, as you go into this, to really connect with people and support one another because no one person can do it for you.

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