Virtual Reality in Schools

In 2016, worldwide revenue from augmented and virtual reality was $5.2 billion. By 2020, it is predicted to reach $162 Billion. (IDC, Aug. 2016)

Virtual Reality (VR) is like no resource we have ever used before. It is entirely immersive and incredibly engaging. For schools, this technology offers some amazing possibilities for teaching and learning; not just because of its capacity to provide a spectacularly novel alternative to traditional mediums, but because it offers us the chance to ‘live the experience’ of the content rather than simply passively consume/receive it. Also, the virtual experience of engaging with content can change the way we think and behave. For instance, the latest research coming out of Stanford University’s Virtual Human Interaction Lab, confirms that VR can raise our sense of empathy, increase our sustainable behaviours, and decrease race related prejudice.

I am very worried!

VR has not yet been identified as a library resource. If a resource sits outside the school library, it sits outside access and equity. This is simply because it will not be available to all students, irrespective of anyone else’s subjective perception of need or deservedness. If, for instance, VR ends up finding a home in the IT lab or the science department, then access will be restricted on the basis of:…

  1. Availability of staff to supervise use
  2. Perceived academic need (likely for STEM learning areas)
  3. Track record of behaviour (can the student be trusted)
  4. Perceived ability to meet the demands of using the resource (i.e.cognitive/physical ability).

None of the above restrictions exist for VR in a school library setting. In fact, considering the last two points, I have personally found that highly engaging technology is a fantastic way to engage and build relationships with struggling, disadvantaged, or disabled students.

Expertly resourcing teaching & learning

The teacher librarian is the one person in the school whose explicit responsibility it is to invigorate teaching and learning through innovative resourcing. It is for a good reason that this profession requires a dual qualification (teacher + librarian). Teacher librarians live at the intersection of resource leadership and teaching practice. The role is both practical and visionary.

When a teacher librarian brings a new resource medium into a school, the following things take place:

  • Research
  • Leadership
  • Acquisition, processing, management and maintenance.
  • Training
  • Advice on the integration of the resource into curriculum and specific learning activities.
  • Linkage of the resource to learning outcomes.
  • Advice on resource choices for differentiated instruction.
  • Developing and modeling best practice (for resource handling/use).
  • Applying protocols and procedures for equitable use (e.g. circulation).


School libraries must get on board with VR, and soon. Otherwise, this resource, which does come with a learning curve, will not reach teachers through the hands of someone specifically qualified to deliver the above-listed points. It will not be promoted or managed through a whole-school approach. And absolutely, it will not enter the school through the framework of access and equity, which defines modern school libraries.

IS VR distractive?

Yes, it can be. This, however, is no reason to avoid it. Actually, good luck trying! This technology offers far too many possibilities (including education) for it to ever go away. VR is coming to your school – it’s just a matter of when.

The distractive potential of any new or existing technology, can be circumvented through foresight and planning. Instructional strategies that specifically address the use of technology in learning programmes, are essential. And, it’s not like we haven’t been through this before! First it happened when computers entered schools. Then, more recently, it happened when tablets exploded into the classroom, and Year 7s started arriving on the first day of school, with a smartphones in their pockets. Now, it seems, it’s going to be virtual reality and augmented reality.

Librarians wishing to convince teachers that the distractive potential of VR and other highly engaging technologies can be managed, should perhaps look to the neuroscience of attention. There are plenty of titles available, including some that relate specifically to technology (e.g. I found ‘The Distracted Mind: Ancient Brains in a High-Tech World’ (MIT, 2016) quite informative). If you don’t have time to read a book right now… the general advice from our scientists is that distraction is normal, and we are less likely to be distracted from a goal when it is powerful and self-directed. The implication here, is that the ideal environment for good attention, is one where students are motivated to pursue the learning goal, and feel a sense of ownership over the goal. (I think we probably already knew that?)

Preparing for the arrival of VR

Some General Guidelines

  1. Learn: learn all about VR in education, and explore different brands.
  2. Invest: buy a decent head mounted display (e.g. VIVE or Oculus), and select apps that offer quality (smooth experience/usability) and relevance. Students engage with good technology. Some apps, frankly, are boring and stupid!
  3. Test: you must know how to use this technology! Otherwise you can’t offer an opinion or instruct others.
  4. Integrate: it into the library (cataloguing, training, procedures…)
  5. Inform: prepare use-case scenarios, instructions, and video tutorials for teachers and students. Offer staff PD.
  6. Promote: find your trailblazers, demonstrate the potential at any given chance, talk about the benefits, use all the school communication channels to keep staff up-to-date with innovation that is taking place in your school, using VR.