New Visual Realities Require K-12 Designs for the Future
My April article, Boosting the K-12 Educational Experience through Virtual Modes of Learning, defined a few virtual modes of learning – such as virtual reality (VR), augmented reality (AR), and other virtual learning environments (VLEs) – that have greatly impacted educational environments. Virtual field trips, learning simulations, and creative, self-directed learning are a few of the enhancements resulting from these advanced tools. Formerly this innovative technology was out of reach for the K-12 market, but that is rapidly changing.
For example, a recent Fortune Magazine article reported on a unique pilot partnership of foundations and private entities helping to bring VR to elementary schools in targeted school districts in California and Florida. It is just a matter of time before the K-12 system joins higher education in not just philosophical consideration of new technologies but actual physical changes to traditional classroom environments driven by those technologies.
The recent PBS NOVA program, “School of the Future,” emphasizes that the emergence of technology, even in pre-schools, is not a question of if but when. In order to produce successful citizens of tomorrow, it is essential that schools incorporate, and design for, the technologies of the future. The emergence of VR, VLEs and other cutting edge technologies aren’t simply about learning new ways to do old things; rather, they enable teachers and students to think differently about subject matter – they inspire transformational learning.
Pace of Change: Consider that in the span of only a few years, Google evolved smartphone-based VR technology from Cardboard to the recently announced Daydream. The inexpensive Cardboard design – and most importantly, its ability to be used with almost any smartphone going back several generations – means that Cardboard-compatible devices and apps will be around for a long time at increasingly affordable prices.
Moreover, the promise of interaction with the real world, even if on a relatively limited scale, will drive more VR devices towards AR. As AR devices become more common, the sit-in-place experiences of Cardboard-type devices will give way to truly three-dimensional, motion-tracked experiences. Once thought of as a Star Trek science fiction, real-world forms of the Holodeck are now being developed. As one new technology takes root, another one emerges. Faced with constantly evolving technology, the only sustainable choice is to remain flexible enough to accommodate The Next Great Thing – whatever that may turn out to be.
Design in mind: Constructing a space around a particular technology can lead to failure if that technology becomes obsolete before or shortly after it is implemented. Flexibility is key.
DLR Group is pioneering the field of Next Generation (21st Century) Learning Environments to ensure that our designs accommodate the exponential pace of change and development in VR and other future-forward technologies. We advocate for educational spaces that adjust to rapidly changing technologies with minimal impact to on-going operations. Like the new modes of learning, our designs encompass the principles of:
- Flexibility and Mobility – open space planning to multi-functional furniture
- Accessibility – considerations that maximize learning opportunities for all students
- Creativity – visualizing technology that has not yet been invented and planning for it
It is too early to know exactly how virtual reality and virtual modes of learning will affect K-12 education. However, it is an exciting time to apply my experience in these fields to create the next generation of technologically flexible learning spaces.