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When Watson and Crick were figuring out the double helix shape of our DNA, they actually used a set of molecular models, similar to toys used in preschool. Being able to feel and see them in 3D definitely has its advantages. And, when it comes to how microscopic entities interact, why leave it all to the imagination? We’ve seen generations of students struggling to understand and remember concepts in chemistry through the written word, most of which is literally Greek. The use of Augmented and Virtual Reality can actually turn chemistry from a dreaded subject to a really cool one.
The benefits of AR/VR don’t stop there either. After all, the education system is less concerned about the coolness of subjects and more about students acquiring knowledge. So, here’s a look at why VR technology could make chemistry a desirable and easier-to-comprehend subject for more students.
There’s no denying the allure of tech for today’s students. They want to do everything on their tablets and smartphones. This has driven the rise of EdTech. But, the time is ripe to take it to the next level with VR. When educational material is specially created for virtual reality, it not only captures the attention of the students, it also motivates them to explore further. The concepts being taught become real. If a picture is worth a thousand words, just envision what experiencing it is like! Moreover, it could be hugely beneficial for students with learning disabilities and dyslexia.
Imagine if students could count the electrons, neutrons and protons in an atom or take apart and rebuild molecules. Their attention would be captivated through the entire process making it easier to understand what a molecule or atom is made up of.
Lab explosions could be a thing of the past. Chemical experiments are possibly the most volatile of all the practical classes that students attend through school. A slight jerk of the arm could lead to more H2SO4 accidentally falling into the beaker. The result could be that the chemistry lab is closed for the day or rest of the week! Rather than having to store volatile chemicals, using VR means long-term savings for the school, while creating a safe environment for students to experiment. And even if an experiment fails, there would be no actual burns or explosions. In fact, many more types of experiments could be attempted that are currently possible.
With VR, students can create a virtual persona or avatar, through which they interact. And, research shows us that the avatar could have a very different personality from the real self. What this essentially translates to in the classroom is that the more shy students might feel confident and interact better with peers. On the other hand, students could get so immersed in what they are doing that they continue to explore on their own, teaming up with others who wish to do the same. All this could lead to more cooperation, the contribution of ideas and a more enjoyable learning experience. It could also make learning more accessible to students with certain types of disabilities, who might not otherwise be able to participate in physical experiences.
In fact, a study of 20 primary schools, conducted by the University College Dublin School of Education and Lifelong Learning, under the leadership of Dr. Conor Gavin, found that the use of virtual reality had a positive impact on students with social issues. The report stated, “Additional evidence which wasn’t published to the site, pointed to especially positive outcomes for individual children from ethnic minorities, or with learning difficulties, or experiencing problems at home.”
Scientific concepts can be difficult to understand for many students, especially through textbooks, which leave concepts abstract. It is through the power of visualization afforded by VR, that such concepts can be transformed into those that can be experienced. This will have a hugely positive impact on students being able to grasp new concepts and theories. In short, what the education system would be doing is providing students a practical, real-world understanding, rather than sending out people into the world with only theoretical knowledge.
In fact, VR has been touted as being the way to “bridge the gap between theoretical knowledge and practical implementation” through the ability to simulate real-life situations and provide immersive experiences to students.
Undoubtedly, something that you experience for yourself is much easier to remember than a bunch of dry sentences, interspersed with Greek alphabets, in book. When content is delivered in a way that more than one sensory organ is stimulated, it is more likely to be recalled even months later. And, retention is maximized when the individual is able to actually interact with the concept in virtual reality.
A joint study by George Mason University, University of Houston and NASA, using three different VR worlds to teach science, found that:
Concept clarity was higher in students using VR, both immediately after the lesson and 5 months later.
While there was no significant difference in 2D situations between students using VR and those in a traditional classroom, when it came to 3D concepts, the VR group definitely did much better.
This will probably be the most sought-after benefit by students. But, when learning is entertaining and fun, students are more likely to concentrate and understand better, while also being able to remember the concepts taught more effectively. Research has proven the efficacy of gamification in promoting learning. VR does exactly that. A journey into the interior workings of molecules could be as entertaining as a walk down the streets of Westeros!
Another study, specifically on the use of VR in teaching chemistry, found that the scores of the group that received VR-assisted instruction were generally higher than those being taught through traditional means. The report went on to say that VR could enhance the understanding of concepts in not just chemistry, but other science subjects as well.
Experiential learning is also gaining momentum as an educational trend, as are personalized learning models. The next step in this direction should be the use of virtual reality, which could maximize the gains of education for students.
About the Author:
Kimberly Hulbert joined Magic EdTech this year and is responsible for content and technical engineering business development. With over 20 years in educational technology, some of the roles she's held were at Certica Solutions, dataMetrics Software, Pokémon and Kaplan.
For any query, reach Magic EdTech team at [email protected].
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