Episode 38 – VR and AR in education – opportunities and challenges

In this Episode of the WUEconomics Outside the Box Podcast, I talked to Kristina Bucher, research assistant at the chair of school pedagogy at the Faculty of human science at the University of Wuerzburg. We discussed the opportunities and obstacles of new technologies like VR (Virtual Reality), AR (Augmented Reality) and MR (Mixed-Reality) in educational use.

How AR-VR-MR can bring value in education?

If we want younger generations to use these technologies in their daily work-life, there is a need for educated teachers, that are motivated and equipped with proper knowledge and didactic skills to transfer knowledge to their students. Therefore, there is a need for education of pre-service teachers concerning the use of technologies like AR, VR and MR. To begin with, it is important to take a critical look at new technologies and identify how they can bring additional value for teaching and knowledge transfer.

AR, VR and MR are broadening the teaching tool-kit and bring additional and complementary tools. As people are different and learn different, these new technologies might be promising new options. The most important attribute of AR/VR is, that it enables humans to manipulate their perceived environment in a way that wasn’t possible with an exocentric perspective. While people have always learned about things, AR, VR and MR offer new approaches to teach and learn while interacting with objects and surroundings. This enables new teaching and learning experiences. It doesn’t mean, that AR, VR and MR will fully substitute traditional teaching experiences – for example it is still important to go outside with children and make them experience nature in real life. But these new technologies will complement the tool-kit in multiple ways. In contrast to the past, it will now be possible to make students experience traveling to the moon, other foreign places or even back in time. There are various other fields and subjects where existing content can be complemented with VR, AR and MR. In mathematics class for example it will be possible to visualize vectors or three-dimensional geometric shapes and objects in a dynamic and interactive way for every single student. This is additional value for instance for pupils, which are having difficulties in the imagination of three-dimensional objects. Additional value can be brought to history class: with virtual reality technology it is possible to project pupils to places that don’t exist anymore or are not reachable under regular circumstances. There are existing examples, where students can experience elements of the depressing surrounding of German pre-war concentration camps -students walk along the hallways of former concentration camps and perceive additional perspectives looking at their phones or tablets. These approaches are highly emotional and create an enhanced understanding and learning experience, which is much more intense compared to watching a documentation on television.

Teach the teacher & technology acceptance

One key question is: How do we teach the teachers? Often, there is a common misunderstanding, that there is a vast need of expensive technology and infrastructure. Nowadays, most smartphones and tablets are capable realizing VR and AR applications. The bigger issue is fostering general technology acceptance of teachers. Therefore, it is important to increase transparency and determine where on the one side AR, VR and MR have the potential to complement teaching and create additional value and on the other side where dangerous situations might occur. It is therefore important to have a critical discussion on psychological risks of exposing small children and pupils to VR or AR. Moreover, there is a need for (pre-service) teachers in the didactical concepts concerning AR and VR.


The level of technology acceptance of teachers is not necessarily related to age. The most powerful approach increasing technology acceptance is by creating hands-on experiences, showing applied use-cases and giving teachers the opportunity to try out new technologies. This is the main goal of the MEET-Lab (Media Education and Educational Technology Lab), that has been installed at the University of Wuerzburg. It is equipped with AR, VR and mixed-reality applications and offers opportunities to demonstrate and practice those new technologies. It is important for (pre-service) teachers to experience AR, VR and MR to understand the practical use-cases and values for education and knowledge transfer. It is a place where people can experience, discuss, create ideas and concepts. The lab offers a flexible learning environment with chairs that can be moved around easily, electricity and internet-connection everywhere and a variety of AR and VR applications, 3D-printers and other technologies. It is the goal to create an excellent environment to motivate (young) people to look at technical problems and topics from another perspective and increase technology acceptance.

“Breaking Bad Behavior” is a current project and technological setup that can be experienced at the lab. The main goal is to offer pre-service teachers opportunities to experience classroom management in a virtual reality setup (s. www.schulpaedagogigk.uni-wuerzburg.de/en/research-projects/b3 ). The project is in collaboration with the department of Human-Computer Interaction at the University of Wuerzburg (Faculty of Computer Science). Virtual students are showing different styles of disruptive behavior like receiving a phone call or sleeping on the table. Pre-service teachers get opportunities to deal with inconvenient situations in an authentic environment. By measuring stress-related indicators while practice it was shown that they are physically and psychologically reacting to the approach. The project is set-up to be exercised by two people, the teacher, who is projected into VR and an instructor, that is determining classroom behavior and reactions. Therefore, it is a practical and useful approach from different perspectives. In a continuation project of breaking bad behavior called ViLeArn (s. www.schulpaedagogigk.uni-wuerzburg.de/en/research-projects/vilearn ) there will be an application where pre-service teachers not only learn in VR but learn together in VR. It is a system where people can link in from remote places and meet in VR.

VR and AR offer a broad variety of opportunities in an educational context. From an international perspective, German schools are on average less active and engaged in AR/VR, compared to e.g. Asian countries, where openness towards new technology is larger  (see for instance  http://www.xinhuanet.com//english/2017-10/18/c_136689509.htm ). Besides technology acceptance issues, it is important to provide wide-spread, reliable and fast broadband internet access. Even in Germany, a highly advanced and industrialized country, this is still not fully the case.