What is VR’s Place in EdTech?

Having a good look at a new (virtual) reality for students in the classroom.

GUEST COLUMN | by Monica Burns

CREDIT Nearpod.pngOver the past few weeks I’ve had a handful of conversations with influencers, educators, and developers who are exploring Virtual Reality (VR) in learning spaces.

As VR becomes increasingly popular in our lives outside of the classroom, will it have an impact on our students educational experiences?

Does VR have a place in edtech?

As a former classroom teacher and now in my role as an independent consultant and professional development facilitator, I’m always on the look out for new technology that can transform the way we think about teaching and learning.

Virtual reality is more than a gimmick—it has the potential to be an integral part of teaching and learning.

With new apps, websites and devices released on a regular basis, it’s not hard to find something that grabs my attention.

When a new item pops onto my radar, I come back to a phrase I’ve used for quite some time now: tasks before apps. This ‘gut check’ reminds me to stop and think about whether a new tool, application or device can be used to elevate and energize traditional experiences for students and make sure we’re putting the learning first.

I believe that when used thoughtfully, VR has a place in our edtech space. It can transform teaching in learning when incorporated into instruction with a clear purpose.

Over the past year, I’ve had the chance to work with students and teachers as they explore VR in educational settings. These experiences have solidified my stance that virtual reality is more than a gimmick—it has the potential to be an integral part of teaching and learning.

Background Knowledge

A few weeks ago, I sat in a circle with a group of energetic kindergarten students. They were studying animal habitats and I joined them for the day to dive a bit deeper into the topic.

With an iPad in each of their hands, they were ready to ‘transport’ to a new place to discuss what animals might live in each location.

There were no headsets or isolated experiences, but robust conversations and instant discussions about the 360 image that popped up on the screen of their iPad as they moved from side to side. 

FETC link.jpgLearn more from Monica Burns and other leading analysts, thought leaders, and educators at the 2018 Future of Education Technology Conference, January 23-26 in Orlando, Florida. 

For children who had never stepped foot in a forest or put on goggles to explore a coral reef, this virtual reality experience gave them a chance to apply what they had learned in earlier lessons.

I used the VR content in Nearpod to choose a few locations for students to explore together.

Both before a lesson to establish background knowledge, and after a series of lessons to extend applications for students, virtual reality can have students moving right, left, up and down to learn about new spaces.


Although VR experiences shouldn’t be seen as a substitution for the ‘real thing,’ a trip to the edge of the Grand Canyon or a frog dissection may provide logistical challenges for your students. Simulations with VR can open the world to students in ways simply not possible a decade or even a few years in the past.

One of the most popular ways for thinking about VR in education is the opportunities it gives students to interact with new experiences.  

For example, I like how Zspace lets students spin, zoom and make their way through simulations using an interactive screen and special glasses.

As schools invest in more VR technology, the ability to simulate a variety of experiences—from performing surgery to changing a part on an airplane—will become more accessible to students.

Empathy Education

VR in education might include a ‘field trip’ to a new place or a simulation of a new experience. One of its most compelling classroom uses is to for storytelling. Learning what life is like in different part of the world and gaining a better understanding of the challenges people face every day can help students become more empathetic.

When leading sessions for educators or a conference or having a casual conversation with someone about virtual reality, the idea of empathy education through VR experiences is one of the first things I mention.

It’s been so exciting to see how the content produced by New York Times VR and CNN VR has contributed to this narrative. Their videos share stories from around the world that help viewers of any age learn about life in different places with a mobile device and a low-cost Google Cardboard headset.

Virtual reality has a clear place in edtech when integrated into classroom learning experiences with a purpose.

The possibilities will continue to grow as the content on VR platforms strengthens and devices become more affordable. I hope you’ll jump into this exciting space to level the playing field for students, and remember to place tasks before apps!

Monica Burns, Ed.D., is an EdTech & Curriculum Consultant and Founder of ClassTechTips.com. Her new book from ASCD, Tasks Before Apps: Designing Rigorous Learning in a Tech-Rich Classroom is now available on Amazon and her weekly newsletter for teachers is full of more favorites for virtual reality in the classroom. She’ll be speaking about educational technology at FETC this January.


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