Inside educational VR at Bett 2017

Exploring Virtual Reality in the Classroom

The Bett show always sees the very latest in classroom technology on display, bringing together edtech companies from around the world to exhibit their products and services. Exploring the show this year, we found a whole lot of stands focussing on a relatively new development for education - Virtual Reality systems.

Definitely one of the most popular kinds of tech at the show, classroom VR comes in a whole lot of forms, which we’ll explore below. In practically all cases, VR devices are designed to bring learners into direct contact with the subjects being taught, whether that involves walking around historical or distant locations, exploring volcanoes, or anything else.

Of course, the fact that the technology is incredibly popular right now doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s going to be long-lasting, or effective in classrooms - quite a few attendees to this year’s Bett noticed that 3D displays, a major category last year, were completely absent and unwanted this time around. We’d strongly advise any school considering adopting classroom VR to talk with other teachers to find out how the tech’s actually affected their classes.

Categories of educational VR

While every exhibitor had their own take on the concept, most classroom VR falls into a few different categories, each of which comes with a distinct set of advantages and disadvantages:

Smartphone-based VR: These headsets are designed so that users can insert their phone, using the screen and a specialty app to simulate a 3D image. Definitely a low-cost option, this could potentially work well in schools with a BYOD program, saving a significant amount of money, space and time compared to other options. However, the devices do rely on students having smartphones, and aren’t as powerful as the majority of other options.

Dedicated VR Headsets: Designed to provide completely immersive VR experiences, dedicated headsets were a major showstopper at Bett 2017, with stands from companies like Veative being some of the most visited stands throughout the week. While the devices are often expensive, the crowds around the stands may indicate that the investment may be a reasonable one.

Immersive Rooms: A rather unique approach to VR, we only saw immersive rooms discussed in a talk from teacher Nathan Ashman rather than being advertised on the show floor. Essentially, the idea is to use projectors and props to transform a room into another scene entirely - allowing more than one student to experience the area at a time. While this category’s definitely limited at the moment, with few pre-made experiences available, it’s definitely worth keeping an eye on - could become increasingly popular over time.