One of the issues with VR is its intensity. A lot has been written about how it can encourage empathy, prosocial behaviour and that it can diminish racial bias. Indeed I've seen myself how an immersive experience can lead to students wanting to learn more about an issue (for example the hydrosphere Google Expedition was particular impactful on our Grade 5 students). However as the report highlights, VR is so new that we really don't have a lot of data to show how it affects the developing brain of young children - and as a result the report highlights the need for caution.
There have been small studies about the impact of VR on neurological development in children, though clearly we need more research to really understand these effects. Recommendations about the use of VR are that it should only be used for 5-10 minutes with children. Most of the VR devices such as the Gear, PlaystationVR and Oculus Rift state clearly that the headsets should not be used by children under 12 or 13. Only Google Cardboard, the HTC Vive and the ViewMaster seem suitable for elementary aged students. Google recommends using Cardboard only with adult supervision, View Master recommends a minimum age of 7 with adult supervision and the Vive states clearly it is not designed for children but that adults should monitor it closely when used by "older" children (what age that is I have no idea). Here are some of the key findings of the Common Sense report:
- VR can provoke a response to virtual experiences similar to responses to actual experiences. The report states that children may face challenges discerning which components of virtual events are not real.
- The long term effect of VR on the developing brain and health is unknown. We know the prefrontal cortex develops through middle childhood, but more research needs to be conducted before it can be recommended for children.
- Children may be influenced by characters in VR and this influence can be good or bad. There is concern that the power of social-influence in VR could encourage antisocial behaviour.
- VR is engaging and students report more enthusiasm for learning when using VR - however they don't learn more with VR than through video or computer games. The report states "VR has yet to demonstrate an increased retention of facts as compared to the non-immersive platforms". The big challenge of VR is that students focus on the sensorial experiences of the virtual environment rather than the narrative information that is meant to build knowledge.
- VR can increase empathy in adults, however there is little evidence it can increase it in children as they have not yet fully developed the ability for perspective-taking and generally need to develop a more mature and complex ability to understand that people think and feel differently from them.
Has your school started using VR? What is your experience of this on student learning (not just student engagement)? I'd love to know more so please leave a comment.