Immersive technologies bring new opportunities to engage, teach and entertain children, but what are the safeguards we must put in place?
The overall sense that emerges from the research is that immersive technologies such as VR could become valuable learning tools Click To Tweet
As more children start using virtual reality, it will be critical for parents and teachers to understand the effect it can have. This is what a new report Virtual Reality 101: What You Need to Know About Kids and VR is hoping to contribute towards. Produced in collaboration with independent nonprofit organisation Common Sense Media, it is a resource to better understand how this new technology can be applied to everyday life and learning.
Compared to other media, VR is a powerful way to deliver information Click To Tweet
“Because VR is in its infancy, we have a unique opportunity to stay on top of this technological wave before it overwhelms us,” says report Co-author Jim Steyer, Founder of Common Sense Media.
Report Co-author Jeremy Bailenson – a communication professor at Stanford University and founder of Stanford’s Virtual Human Interaction Lab – explains that research about the effects of the medium on children is only just emerging: “Compared to other media, VR is an extremely powerful way to deliver information. VR responds to your body. If you want to get closer to an object you can actually walk; if you want to touch something you can reach out and get haptic feedback. It’s perceptually surrounding, so no matter where you turn there is content.”
The report also includes the results of a survey of 3,613 parents about their attitudes toward virtual reality.
“Until this survey, it was unclear how, and even how many, kids were using virtual reality,” Bailenson says. “Now we have an initial picture of its adoption and use.”
The overall sense that emerges from the research is that immersive technologies such as VR could indeed become valuable learning tools, and 62 percent of parents surveyed for the report agree that VR can offer educational experiences for their children.
But parents and educators still need to take some precautions, Bailenson says. In the survey, 11 percent of parents reported their 8- to 17-year-olds experienced dizziness, 10 percent experienced a headache, and 13 percent bumped into something. He therefore cautions that parents need to supervise their children when they use VR and ensure they do so in moderation, limiting sessions to 10 or 20 minutes and enforcing regular breaks.As more children start using virtual reality, it will be critical for parents and teachers to understand the effect it can have Click To Tweet
Overall, the findings show that VR can have a greater impact on children than other media.
“We found that kids can develop more trust in media characters in the virtual environment,” says Jakki Bailey, a graduate from Stanford’s PhD program in communication and now an assistant professor at the University of Texas at Austin.
In a 2009 study, Bailenson found that when elementary-aged school children saw themselves swimming with orca whales in a virtual environment, many later recalled the experience as real. Building off that research, a 2017 study Bailenson conducted with Bailey showed that media characters in virtual reality may be more influential over young children than characters on TV or computers.
62 percent of parents surveyed for the report agree that VR can offer educational experiences for their children Click To Tweet
In partnership with the Sesame Workshop, Bailenson and Bailey set up an interactive and immersive VR environment where children aged between four and six played games with the popular Sesame Street character Grover. Their observations showed that when children were engaged with the VR version of Grover versus a version on a two-dimensional screen, they were more likely to treat him as a friend.As immersive technologies become pervasive and seamlessly intersect with the physical world, educators need to proactively understand and prepare for this change rather than reactively adapt to it Click To Tweet
Building on their previously published research on Immersive Virtual Reality and the Developing Child and Considering virtual reality in children’s lives, Bailey notes that this influence can be a positive force in teaching, as children are more likely to turn to that source for information and learning.
Speaking – appropriately through a Virtual Reality platform, AltspaceVR – at the recent Global Education and Skills Forum in Dubai, Bailey advocated for teachers and parents to be mindful of the greater psychological impact these virtual environments have, particularly in young children. The very element which makes Immersive Technology such a powerful learning tool – the sense of psychological presence it affords the user – could also be potentially damaging.The very element which makes Immersive Technology such a powerful learning tool – the sense of psychological presence it affords the user – could also be potentially damaging Click To Tweet
Speaking at the Global Education and Skills Forum in Dubai, Bailey advocated for teachers and parents to be mindful of the greater psychological impact these virtual environments have Click To Tweet Yet this is not a warning against the technology itself, she explained. As immersive technologies become increasingly pervasive and seamlessly intersect with the physical world, educators need to proactively understand, use, and prepare for this change rather than reactively adapt to it.
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Alice Bonasio is a VR Consultant and Tech Trends’ Editor in Chief. She also regularly writes for Fast Company, Ars Technica, Quartz, Wired and others. Connect with her on LinkedInand follow @alicebonasio on Twitter.