In view of the growth of the virtual reality and augmented reality, consideration needs to be given to the safety of its use with children, especially within the school environment.
However, before you decide to brand me a 'Luddite' and form a mob to obliterate every piece of electrical gadgetry I have, let me profess that I love technology... the freedoms it allows, the potential for learning, how it can inspire, and how it can allow us to shape our world according to our needs and desires. Despite it having the power to liberate an individual, it also has the ability to confuse, disorientate and, unsupervised, give access to worryingly inappropriate material. I am amazed with the rapid development of AR and VR from competing technologies such as the Microsoft Hololens, Oculus Rift and the Samsung Gear VR, and genuinely believe that they will have a place in revolutionizing the way children are educated in the near future.
Luckey Palmer (creator of the Oculus Rift) said in an article by Johnson (2015) that VR would predominantly be used in gaming in the next two years, and would then expand to become integrated into the mainstream. In a previous post, I indicate the potential benefits of this technology as being a powerful tool for learning within schools. I still do. Although, if Palmer is to be believed, there is a fair amount of time before sophisticated AR and VR enters our schools; before it reaches the classroom, consideration should be given to its effect on the individual user.
Piaget in 1929, believed that very young children find it difficult to distinguish between fantasy and reality, claiming that they do not have this distinction firmly in place until the age of 12. Morison & Gardner, (1978), Flavell, Green & Flavell, (1986) and Sharon & Woolley, (2004) also agree that:
"children often err in mistaking non-reality, such as fantasy, appearance, and illusion, for reality" (Woolley & Ghossainy, 2013)If this is the case then it could be argued that children between the ages of beginning school and the start of secondary education, may have difficulties in their semantic understanding of AR and VR, If a child cannot understand the difference between reality and alternative realities, then is the use of this technology appropriate? The media in recent years, has been quick to judge (often without evidence) the negative affect that violent computer games and films have on the impressionable, however this technology offers its own set of complications. Films and computer games, although can draw the user in, are not designed to alter the perception of reality: a person playing a computer game, is still aware that they are in their own room, whereas VR and AR are designed to encompass the user in a world which does not exist, or to skew reality. A logical assumption could be that as the user is more intimate with the virtual experience than they are with any other media, then the problems caused by the content (if any) would be greater. Although this theory is flimsy, I am sure it will be tested rigorously by psychologists as the technology becomes more readily available.
In addition, consideration also needs to be given to how children with Special Educational Needs and Disabilities (SEND) interact with AR and VR. For example, those who are on the autistic spectrum, may have difficulty with not only understanding what they perceive to be true but may be distressed due to being overwhelmed by tactile and sensory information, from the mere presence of wearing a headset or having their eyes covered, to sounds that are too loud or are layered over those from the surrounding environment. Equally, the technology should be assessed to see if those with epilepsy can use the equipment safely, without increasing the risk of seizure.
Despite all the concerns surrounding AR and VR, I believe that we should not worry to the extent which Jeff Goldblum's character does in Jurassic Park, prompting thoughts such as:
"Your scientists were so preoccupied with whether they could, that they didn't stop to think if they should."
Woolley & Ghossainy (2013) believe that a "disproportionate amount of time" has been given to underestimating the accuracy of children to distinguish between the real and the unreal. They believe that children, from the age of 3 can recognise the difference between pretend actions and real ones: eg. pretending to cook using a toy kitchen, or nursing a baby doll. Harris, Pasquini, Duke, Asscher, & Pons, 2006 also argue that most children understand not only tahat physical objects are real, such as a chair or a ball, but things which they cannot see e.g: germs are also real. If this is the case, then the context in which a child learns about their world and the guidance given from adults, is key to their interpretation and cognition. With regards to teaching, educators will require training in how to teach with this new technology and how best to tackle misconceptions incurred from it.
Whereas earlier I have noted potential problems of the use of AR and VR with children with SEND, this technology can be used to allow someone who experiences physical disability, to use an avatar to represent them in a virtual world, who has the same physical capabilities as any other player, regardless of their real world condition. Furthermore, this technology, combined with the right software, could help children who would benefit from sensory integration therapy, as it can let the user experience lights, sound and different visual imagery.
In summary, I believe that AR and VR will be, as Luckey states, integrated into the mainstream, and thus will find a way into education. When it does, as long as it is supported by genuinely inspiring software which motivates students to learn through exploration and creation as well as demonstration, it will be a powerful teaching tool. This article was designed to briefly highlight some unanswered questions regarding potential difficulties with AR and VR being used by children, which during the course of time and the development of the technology, will allow us to better analyse and assess how they react to their use in school.
We exist in a world of technological marvels, where almost anything is possible. We just need to consider how this technology can best support and enrich the life of the user, finding the best way to respond to their needs.
Flavell JH, Green FL, Flavell ER. Development of knowledge about the appearance-reality distinction. Monographs of the Society for Research in Child Development. 1986;51(1, Serial No. 212) [PubMed]
Harris PL, Pasquini ES, Duke S, Asscher JJ, Pons F. Germs and angels: The role of testimony in young children’s ontology. Developmental Science. 2006;9:76–96. [PubMed]
Johnson, E. (2015) Oculus Rift Inventor Palmer Luckey: Virtual Reality Will Make Distance Irrelevant (Q&A), re/code, [online] Available: <URL:http://recode.net/2015/06/19/oculus-rift-inventor-palmer-luckey-virtual-reality-will-make-distance-irrelevant-qa/> [Access Date 23rd June 2015].
Morison P, Gardner H. Dragons and dinosaurs: The child’s capacity to differentiate fantasy from reality. Child Development. 1978;49:642–648.
Piaget J. The child’s conception of the world. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul; 1929.
Sharon T, Woolley JD. Do monsters dream? Young children’s understanding of the fantasy/reality distinction. British Journal of Developmental Psychology. 2004;22:293–310.
Woolley, JD, Ghossainy, M. Revisiting the Fantasy-Reality Distinction: Children as Naive Skeptics. Child development. 2013:84(5): 1496-1510. doi: 10.1111/cdev.12081
Geeky (2015) vr-classroom, image, viewed 23rd June 2015, <https://geeky.io/2015/06/08/vr-education.html>
Thank you to psychologist, Irana Tarling for your help with this post.