This is a piece I wrote back in May 2017 on how new technologies could enhance, change and revolutionise the education system
One of the true benefits of virtual reality technology is how it is going to impact education. Already there are online courses offered by educational websites such as Coursera. This is a godsend for those who not only can’t afford physical onsite education, but also for those who don’t have enough time and flexibility to always commute to a physical institution. For some, time is actually more valuable than money.
Digitising the class room
The real game changer will be when all classes and lectures are recorded and then stored online. Some university lectures are already filmed and made available online but I can see this increasing not just with university lectures but also with typical school classes. This is helpful not just for students who are unable to turn up to some classes/lectures but also for students who did attend the classes/lectures yet want to recap on what was already discussed.
If one can’t physically attend classes because they are unwell, they can catch up via the growing archives of recorded classes. Also if they are not too unwell, they can attend a class virtually in live real time via their VR headsets while resting in bed. They can even participate.
On site teachers augmented by AR, VR and virtual assistants
Also whilst being present in a classroom one could use Augmented Reality glasses (the original 2012 Google Glass was the earliest example of this technology), which are poised to be brought to the mass consumer market soon, to enhance the learning experience as the teacher is talking. The AR glasses could have intelligent speech recognition sensors which pick up on everything the teacher is saying and pick up crucial words and sentences and create visual examples in the students field of vision as an extension of what the teacher is conveying. In addition the sensors could contain algorithms which translates everything the teacher is saying into key bitesize points with several links to relevant related websites for further research and reading.
Intelligent virtual teacher assistants, especially one which one could have an intelligent and deep two way conversation with (given time) is the holy grail of VR and AI in truly transforming the education system. This is not to say that teachers are replaceable. On the contrary, truly inspirational teachers will always be needed regardless of the quantum leaps made in the field of AI. It’s just that teachers are human and one can only consort with their teachers for so much time. Whereas with virtual teacher assistants, one has 24/7 access to them. Struggling with some research at 2am and want to talk to talk to someone? Even your favourite teacher will not want to be disturbed at such an ungodly hour yet your virtual teacher assistant will always be available.
The hybrid situation of having both on site human teachers and virtual teacher assistants is more likely to seriously enhance the educational system and one’s own learning development than turn it upside down. As I’ve already mentioned, good inspirational teachers will always be needed but teachers who periodically don’t make the grade and don’t have their heart in educating and empowering their students will struggle against virtual teachers systematically becoming more intelligent as time marches on.
Virtual teachers designed for primary schools
What’s more, I think virtual teacher assistants will be crucial for primary school education. In my view, it is not very wise to expose children under the age of five to too much (if not any) technology. Yet after that age, virtual immersive teacher assistants may truly assist that stage of the education system. Teaching young children can be very challenging and it takes a unique teacher with vast reserves of energy and a special knack to truly connect to them and get their attention. Most of the time teaching children of that age group can be an incredibly gruelling and trying experience. As a result there is sometimes a severe shortage of good teachers. An intelligent and highly interactive virtual teaching assistant which children love to connect with could revolutionise and be a godsend to the primary school sector.
Understanding something better by being totally immersed in it
Children with a short attention span invariably struggle to absorb what a teacher may be trying to get across. Especially if the teacher is explaining things in a boring and uninspired manner. The best way for a child to understand and grasp something is to be fully thrust in that environment. This is where virtual reality can seriously revolutionise the whole education/learning experience. During a history lesson, a film depicting the horrors of the Second World War will likely move most people, but to actually live and feel it vicariously via VR technology could very effectively help people better understand that period of history far more effectively than through books, traditional storytelling and 2D visuals via film and TV.
I think there is a huge market for VR technology to recreate virtually certain periods in history to give people the opportunity to better understand them. In addition to this, there are countless more opportunities for VR (especially when it is more advanced at replicating our sense of touch, taste and smell) to recreate any environments for people to immerse themselves in.
By Nicholas Peart
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