School field trips will soon be in VR; maintaining students’ attention in the smartphone generation is more pressing than giving them life experience

Tuesday, September 18, 2018 by

For many students, field trips are an enjoyable change of pace from the typical school day, giving them a fresh perspective on a topic they’ve been learning about and the chance to interact with one another in a different environment. Many of us fondly recall hopping on board the school bus with our lunchboxes and chaperones to head off on a new adventure designed to add to our fledgling collection of life experiences.

That may soon become a thing of the past, however, as technology’s affinity for replacing real experiences with virtual ones sets its sights on the school field trip. That’s right: Virtual reality headsets are increasingly being used in schools to transport children to other settings – at the expense of actual field trips.

For example, some Brooklyn students recently “visited” an upstate New York farm from the comfort of their classroom simply by slipping on virtual reality goggles that allowed them to feel like they were getting up close and personal with cows and other farm life.

The students enjoyed the experience, and teachers say it’s another way to keep the “iPhone generation” of students engaged. While it might have been enjoyable and engaging, considering it an acceptable substitute for an actual farm visit is quite a stretch.

Sitting in their classroom, the students aren’t feeling the breeze on their face or breathing in the farm air, with its assortment of smells – unpleasant as some of them may be. They’re not feeling the warm sunshine on their faces or getting its vitamin D-boosting benefits. The goggles won’t let them experience the feel of dirt in their hands or the soft wool of a sheep’s coat.

Perhaps most importantly, they’re not interacting with anyone or anything – or even one another. They’re not asking the farmer questions or observing how the animals react to their presence. It’s a cold, detached experience that simply cannot imitate an actual farm visit.

VR “field trips” not all bad news

There is no denying that there are some cases where virtual reality field trips can be very valuable. For example, an application that allows students to go swimming through the circulatory system can give them a comprehensive understanding of something that simply isn’t possible in real life. The same can be said for a resource called Titans of Space that allows students to virtually tour the solar system.

Other virtual reality “field trips” are simply more convenient ways of doing things that are indeed possible but difficult for a typical group of school students. For example, UK students toured the depths of the ocean last year for a closer look at the effects of coral bleaching, and their geography teacher said he felt that the opportunity led them to ask more intelligent and in-depth questions than looking at text or images would have inspired.

Kids need to experience the world around them

However, when the technology is used exclusively, students will be deprived of some valuable life experiences. While going to stand on Mars is certainly out of the question for school students in 2018, using this technology instead of bringing kids to an actual farm feels lazy and hollow. Young people today are already struggling with depression and social problems thanks to the isolation caused by an overuse of mobile devices and social media; the last thing they need is for schools to rob them of the chance to experience the world around them.

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