The Future of Virtual Reality Applications in K-12 and Higher Education

By Ben Fineman

Virtual and augmented reality technologies are promising to revolutionise the way we present and experience information, which will have profound implications for educational institutions. This article discusses the current state of these technologies and their educational applications today, as well as exploring the exciting future possibilities they will enable.


It’s no secret that the rapid pace of technological advancement is providing unprecedented challenges and opportunities for primary, secondary, and higher education institutions. Schools and universities alike are facing the fact that traditional “stand and deliver” pedagogies, where students passively absorb information presented by a lecturer, are often not the best way to achieve optimal learning outcomes. In the past decade, academic institutions have made significant advances in improving these outcomes through the implementation of new teaching methods enabled by technologies such as real-time video collaboration, online video platforms, learning management systems, and one-to-one digital devices. These and other technologies have empowered students to more effectively leverage information sources both in and out of the classroom, with improvements in learning outcomes to show for it.1 But the improvements we’ve witnessed to date are only the tip of the iceberg. As the exponential advancement of technology continues, a new set of emerging devices is promising to shift the educational paradigm more significantly than anything else to date: virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR).

Virtual reality is not a new idea. We can look as far back as 1961 with the introduction of the Philco Headsight, an early head mounted display designed to be used with closed circuit TV for remotely viewing dangerous situations. The education community itself is no stranger to VR – in 1992, the University of Illinois, Chicago Electronic Visualization Lab invented the CAVE (CAVE Automatic Virtual Environment).2 This system used a room full of projectors and screens along with motion tracking to create an immersive virtual reality experience, and was deployed at a number of research universities, but did not achieve wide adoption largely due to the significant investment in equipment and expertise required to build and operate. Universities are still deploying updated versions of this system today, with a recent example being the YURT (YURT Ultimate Reality Theater) at Brown University,3 which includes sixty-nine high definition projectors driven by twenty nodes of a high performance computing cluster.

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About the Author

Ben Fineman works at the non-profit network consortium Internet2 enacting positive change for the academic community through the deployment and development of advanced collaboration technologies. From traditional video conferencing to collaborative virtual reality, Ben works to improve outcomes with universities, colleges, and community anchor institutions around the world. 



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