Not just fun: Here’s how virtual reality can actually teach kids

When I asked parents I talk to what tech gadgets they want for their children, one answer came up over and over — a virtual reality headset. Why would a device that can give…

Not just fun: Here's how virtual reality can actually teach kids

When I asked parents I talk to what tech gadgets they want for their children, one answer came up over and over — a virtual reality headset.

Why would a device that can give you birds in flight, allow you to “walk” through a rain forest or even fly your own spaceships be something parents want for their kids? They said the gaming components alone make the technology appealing. But what about the science and real-world applications?

It turns out this head-mounted technology, in all its techno-level glory, is so compelling because it’s an idea that’s been around for a long time. In fact, it’s something that has potential for both education and entertainment.

But beyond that, a lot of virtual reality gurus agree that it has a real educational potential.

Rising rocket scientist Jeff Anderson is the co-founder of PSI, a company that develops augmented reality projects. While presenting his project at the New York Toy Fair in 2017, Anderson told Mashable about the project he’s working on to help kids learn about the internet.

“We’re trying to just talk about the Internet,” Anderson said. “How to make yourself into someone who can have the communication skills and confidence to understand what the Internet is about.”

For example, even though children know what a search engine is, they can’t give an accurate description of how it works.

Right now, PSI’s project is in the experimental stage, so Anderson is still learning about what his product would be like to use. But he says it will involve a headset and special software.

“Our vision is to really provide the software that does the math and language stuff on the cloud,” Anderson said. “We want to use virtual reality to do it.”

The hope is that eventually, the process of learning something like computing can be done in a virtual setting. Maybe even in an environment where it would be appropriate for children to be immersed in the technology.

And that’s where Jeffery Presley, author of the book “Extrapolating Dads: How to Teach Your Children to Think,” comes in. He says the timing is good for creating virtual environments because there are already platforms available for tablets. The apps are already out there and are designed to deliver different kinds of educational content.

“I mean you can do a primary school level (or) a high school level without destroying technology and without destroying education,” Presley said. “In fact, what you’re seeing is just that technology getting smarter about it.”

So how does that work? Well, for starters, in order to use the apps that already exist, you’ll need a device that meets a few requirements. Chief among them being a tablet, which will allow your kids to interact with the content you’re providing. In addition, it must be not only capable of running the education software, but also capable of displaying the content in the proper format. It must also be capable of being mobile and portable.

Presley says parents should expect some pretty heavy apps as they begin learning how to use the devices, but he says they’ll be fun and will help kids to build skills they’ll use into the future.

However, as with any new, emerging technology, there are skeptics who are concerned with its impact on kids and whether it’s worth a huge investment of time and money.

“Technology has now reached a point where parents can view it as a legitimate option for promoting creativity in their children,” Presley said. “We have the ability to build a believable experience, to give them that … that gives their children greater confidence.”

Anderson, for his part, says there’s still a lot of education to be done about the practice. While he’s optimistic, he acknowledges that technology will play a key role in helping to teach kids how to solve problems, to communicate better and to get more information, which should lead to better decision-making.

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