Let’s face it, Virtual Reality is really cool, and most educators agree that at one level or another it could be beneficial to student engagement or take us back to the days when field trips were easier and less of a legal hassle.
The reality is that up to this point, the cost of Virtual Reality headsets has been prohibitive for most classrooms. Unless one is purchasing a headset that requires a phone to be dropped into it, the cost for a headset has generally started at a minimum of $300. However, that is not the expensive part. The challenge has been that it also requires a computer with a souped-up graphics card. Most in the VR industry prefer a minimum of the Nvidia 1060, but Windows Mixed Reality will run on computers with chips as low as the Nvidia 960. Because of this, Chromebooks and the vast majority of computers already in schools won’t work due to the need for the accelerated graphics card.
Let me pause here. No one should interpret my comments as disparaging the quality of the experience with this graphics card. Frankly, it’s amazing. We created an astronomy unit that lets students pilot a spaceship to black holes, the Milky Way, and other locations. The experience is so immersive, jaded adults forget they are in a classroom. The reward for you is watching the sense of wonderment on the faces of students as they pilot their ship to the farthest reaches of the universe.
The challenge is that the cost of these computers—for all practical purposes—means that a school will purchase a handful rather than one for each student. Similar to how most of us got our hands on a computer at school in the ’80’s, ’90’s, or ’00’s, when there was a computer lab and we took turns. This worked well for 30 years and will continue to for high-end Virtual Reality. Even more, public libraries, tutoring companies, and Virtual Reality arcades will adopt this higher level experience. This is a model we believe in and will continue to support due to the rich learning experience it provides students.
However, many schools now start by thinking of a 1:1 experience due to the rapid advance of the Chromebook into classrooms. In 2016 and 2017, this was not a possibility in Virtual Reality. By the time classes begin in the fall of 2018, it will be. That is because Oculus, HTC Vive, Google/Lenovo, and Pico have all released untethered, standalone headsets. For the most part, they will cost less than $500, with the Oculus Go starting at $200. Microsoft, which released its Windows Mixed Reality VR system in the fall of ’17 will more than likely be along with their own version sometime in the next 12 months