The Role Of Virtual Reality In Education

The Role Of Virtual Reality In The Future Of Education

Our students are changing. Shouldn't our education tools be, too?

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What if you could really walk a mile in someone else's shoes? Well, maybe not literally *in* their shoes, but we could be really getting to know about someone and where they live in the world.

Virtual reality (VR) is simultaneously a field that has been the center of current technological development and yet has been explored very little outside of the few fields that have adopted it. Thinking about the first field that comes to mind when mentioning virtual reality, video and PC gaming comes to mind. There are filmmakers and artists who are integrating virtual reality into their work. However, when I asked a virtual reality developer their opinion about the future of VR in filmmaking, their response echoed some of the literature that is available on VR in films. They explained that VR presents opportunities for novel filmmaking, but will not be involved in the mainstream for quite a while.

In Ty Burr's article in the MIT Technology Review, called "Hollywood Has No Idea What to Do with VR," Burr explains that "VR will never become the new cinema." This is agreed on for various reasons, including, the fact that classic films cannot be properly recreated using VR technology and the idea that one would no longer be following a linear storyline, in the sense of a visual linear storyline. Burr ponders, "What is that [different] thing" that VR will become.

Currently, I see the most use for VR video and film as an education tool for students and teachers. I first saw the potential of VR as an educational opportunity when I was introduced to Google Expeditions. The app is here for download and further exploration, but the basic understanding is that Expeditions serves as a "virtual reality teaching tool" which places users anywhere in the world without leaving the physical space that they're in.

I saw the opportunity for students to learn from teachers across the globe, and walk around Paris, Egypt, or Mumbai and learn about the different cities: their politics, culture, geography, and ecosystems. There was also the advantage of students teaching students, maybe taking kids their age through a day in their lives. Speaking to people different from ourselves and learning their different languages, especially for young children, has been shown to increase empathy and curiosity.

There is also the added benefit of reducing the human carbon footprint as students and researchers can explore different parts of the globe without having to go there, themselves. This could be effective for places such as the Galapagos Islands or Antarctica which are environments that are being affected by increased tourism.

Virtual reality is already involved in educational institutions around the country and its working. Cost-effective models are being developed, as explored in this article by The Washington Post, are should be encouraged by districts and teachers to be implemented. There are some arguments against the addition of VR into the education program, including the health and concentration of students, the cost of the tech, and the need to support in-class education by real-life teachers.

Now, I understand all these concerns. I taught for a couple years myself, and I valued the face-to-face time with my students and teaching them in the classroom, instead of using Google Drive and Inbox all the time. But, I'm not encouraging the removal of teachers from our classrooms, at all. What I am suggesting, is providing advanced tools for our teachers so that they can best educate our students. By seeing what a blue whale looks like by 'swimming' next to one, there is a lesser need for just reading information out of a textbook and teachers can focus more on answering questions and fostering that necessary curiosity at a younger age.

We don't know the future of this technology, for sure. However, the options that are opened up by virtual reality tools must be priceless. From personal experience, students can feel stifled and confused if they cannot see what they are being taught, and only receiving theory in a book. I love books, but they can only tell you so much before you have to observe it for yourself. Virtual reality is the first step towards accommodating a new generation of technologically-aware and active students who want to know more because they have access to more content that we have ever before.

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An Open Letter To Democrats From A Millennial Republican

Why being a Republican doesn't mean I'm inhuman.
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Dear Democrats,

I have a few things to say to you — all of you.

You probably don't know me. But you think you do. Because I am a Republican.

Gasp. Shock. Horror. The usual. I know it all. I hear it every time I come out of the conservative closet here at my liberal arts university.

SEE ALSO: What I Mean When I Say I'm A Young Republican

“You're a Republican?" people ask, saying the word in the same tone that Draco Malfoy says “Mudblood."

I know that not all Democrats feel about Republicans this way. Honestly, I can't even say for certain that most of them do. But in my experience, saying you're a Republican on a liberal college campus has the same effect as telling someone you're a child molester.

You see, in this day and age, with leaders of the Republican Party standing up and spouting unfortunately ridiculous phrases like “build a wall," and standing next to Kim Davis in Kentucky after her release, we Republicans are given an extreme stereotype. If you're a Republican, you're a bigot. You don't believe in marriage equality. You don't believe in racial equality. You don't believe in a woman's right to choose. You're extremely religious and want to impose it on everyone else.

Unfortunately, stereotypes are rooted in truth. There are some people out there who really do think these things and feel this way. And it makes me mad. The far right is so far right that they make the rest of us look bad. They make sure we aren't heard. Plenty of us are fed up with their theatrics and extremism.

For those of us brave enough to wear the title “Republican" in this day and age, as millennials, it's different. Many of us don't agree with these brash ideas. I'd even go as far as to say that most of us don't feel this way.

For me personally, being a Republican doesn't even mean that I automatically vote red.

When people ask me to describe my political views, I usually put it pretty simply. “Conservative, but with liberal social views."

“Oh," they say, “so you're a libertarian."

“Sure," I say. But that's the thing. I'm not really a libertarian.

Here's what I believe:

I believe in marriage equality. I believe in feminism. I believe in racial equality. I don't want to defund Planned Parenthood. I believe in birth control. I believe in a woman's right to choose. I believe in welfare. I believe more funds should be allocated to the public school system.

Then what's the problem? Obviously, I'm a Democrat then, right?

Wrong. Because I have other beliefs too.

Yes, I believe in the right to choose — but I'd always hope that unless a pregnancy would result in the bodily harm of the woman, that she would choose life. I believe in welfare, but I also believe that our current system is broken — there are people who don't need it receiving it, and others who need it that cannot access it.

I believe in capitalism. I believe in the right to keep and bear arms, because I believe we have a people crisis on our hands, not a gun crisis. Contrary to popular opinion, I do believe in science. I don't believe in charter schools. I believe in privatizing as many things as possible. I don't believe in Obamacare.

Obviously, there are other topics on the table. But, generally speaking, these are the types of things we millennial Republicans get flack for. And while it is OK to disagree on political beliefs, and even healthy, it is NOT OK to make snap judgments about me as a person. Identifying as a Republican does not mean I am the same as Donald Trump.

Just because I am a Republican, does not mean you know everything about me. That does not give you the right to make assumptions about who I am as a person. It is not OK for you to group me with my stereotype or condemn me for what I feel and believe. And for a party that prides itself on being so open-minded, it shocks me that many of you would be so judgmental.

So I ask you to please, please, please reexamine how you view Republicans. Chances are, you're missing some extremely important details. If you only hang out with people who belong to your own party, chances are you're missing out on great people. Because, despite what everyone believes, we are not our stereotype.

Sincerely,

A millennial Republican

Cover Image Credit: NEWSWORK.ORG

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The Gap Between Knowledge And Action

Let's talk about action. There seems to be a mass phenomenon of disconnect between knowledge and action. Why is it that increased knowledge is not motivating people towards increased action.

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In the world today, there are all sorts of social and political movements. Though society has always been flawed with endless problems, people are more aware of these problems today than ever. The rise of the internet, smartphones, and social media has created a new social climate of awareness as a result of greater interconnectedness. But how is it that the public is growing more aware, yet nothing seems to be changing?

I began really thinking about this perplexity recently, as I listened to a TedTalk discussing global warming. According to public polling from the Yale Program on Climate Change Communication, 70% of Americans agree that global warming is occurring. But according to the same polling, only 40% of Americans think climate change will affect them personally and are adjusting their lifestyles because of it. This is the gap between knowledge and action. Two-thirds of Americans acknowledge climate change, but only less than half are doing something about it. Something is being lost in translation, but what is it?

This phenomenon extends far beyond climate change though. Poverty. Hunger. Displacement. Lack of access to clean water. Sexual inequality. Like I said earlier, there are an endless array of problems the world faces, and we are more aware of them than ever, but how do we link knowledge and action?

We know that most issues that have risen due to globalization, affect the people who contribute to the problem the least, the most. Global warming is disproportionately affecting those in poverty who can't afford to recover from wildfires in California, stronger hurricanes in the Gulf of Mexico, or increasingly severe droughts in Syria. People in Flint, Michigan or Karachi, Pakistan lack clean water because of the actions of people far richer than themselves. Is a lack of personal victimization the reason? Is raised awareness and stagnant action a symptom of a bigger issue of lacking compassion or are people just lazy?

As a nineteen-year-old college student, maybe I'm naïve, but I refuse to believe that the U.S. and global, society as a whole is lacking in action because they are lacking in compassion or because third world problems "are not their problems." Philosopher, Christopher Heath Wellman, put it best when saying to "[n]otice how awkward it is to protest that those of us who are privileged cannot be obligated to change the system because we are impotent in the face of its enormity, while simultaneously suggesting that those who are starving to death are entitled to no assistance because they are responsible for the political and economic institutions which led to their ruin" in regards to world hunger.

You may be thinking, "OK but how can I make a difference, as just one person?" What Wellman meant in his quote was that you alone cannot make a difference for people starving in another country, but neither can they. It's only when we come together as a society and commit to action can we overcome these issues. Perhaps this is my Global Studies major speaking, but we are all citizens of the world, not just citizens of the U.S. and we must allow our compassion accordingly. No one has any choice in where, what circumstances, or what society they are born into so to refuse action which would help victims of circumstance would be an ignorant form of elitism.

This problem isn't exclusively on the national and global scale either; everyday people see problems in their personal lives and yet, only a small minority take action. Take, for example, people who stress about procrastination, but never change their time management habits. People who make the same New Year's Resolution every year because they never follow suit. Smokers who want to quit but don't try. Students who complain about poor grades but don't make time to study. Even in our own personal lives, knowledge rarely seems to prompt action.

I don't have an easy fix for this. And I don't hold the solutions to global warming, poverty, hunger, lack of access to clean water, or sexual inequality. But I do know that it doesn't need to be this way. It's often said that recognizing you have an issue is half the battle, the next half is action. Every day, our knowledge of the world and everything which inhabits it is increasing, the time for action is now. If we all, individually, take it upon ourselves to care for one another and work towards a better world, in small ways, I believe that together, we can make anything a reality.

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