Stakeholders, Rationales, and Challenges of Virtual Reality in Education: How Will VR Enter Classrooms?

By Georgie Qiao Jin. Original published at Grouplens. Featured image created by AI image generator

We are living in a thrilling age where commercial VR headsets are no longer a luxury but an affordable reality. The ability of virtual reality to transform education has been a hot topic in recent times, with a wealth of articles, studies, videos, applications, and books dedicated to the subject. The possibilities of VR as an educational tool have captured the imagination of many, with some claiming it will have a profound impact on how we learn and educate. However, it begs the question, if the prospect of learning in VR is so exhilarating, then why isn’t it more prevalent (or even present!) in higher education? Who is putting the brakes on this exciting new learning tool?  Are there hidden challenges beyond what we see in published research or studies, and do stakeholders beyond instructors and students influence the decision to embrace VR in education?

Figure 1. Who influences technology adoption in higher education?

It’s time to delve deeper into the complex world of virtual reality in education and explore the untold stories behind its adoption. For larger organizations or complex contexts such as universities, there is usually more than one type of stakeholder who works together to guide the technology’s adoption decisions. For example, prior work has identified a group of stakeholders (e.g., technology staff, financial staff and administrators) in higher education who will interact with each other to affect the strategies and decisions of a university. With this in mind, we pose three research questions: 

  • Who are the stakeholders we need to consider for using VR in the classroom?
  • What is the rationale for VR use in higher education?
  • What challenges do major stakeholders face in using VR technology in educational activities?
Figure 2. Three research questions we posed in our study

In order to get a more holistic view to answer the research questions, this study applied a multi-method approach with semi-structured interviews followed by two participatory design workshops with university students and instructors. We followed up with another round of interviews with other major stakeholders identified by the workshops. Then, we chose to have a data-driven process to analyze our data from the interviews and workshops.

Figure 3. Methods used in our study

Who are the stakeholders we need to consider for using VR in the classroom?

Through our first round of interviews, it became apparent that there are more people, beyond instructors and students, that we should consider as stakeholders when integrating VR in higher education. The university can be seen as an educational ecosystem, where instructors may be collaborating with other types of experts or services to facilitate their courses. Stakeholders identified by our participants under university systems include co-teaching instructors, TAs, teaching support staff, classroom designers, IT staff, and so on. There were also some stakeholders beyond the campus, including VR content creators/developers, funding providers, and industrial companies. 

We found that different stakeholders at higher education institutions have the power to accelerate the integration of VR technology into traditional classrooms. Most notably, institutional support can promote sustainability and maximize efficiency in many aspects in the long term, including but not limited to management, deployment, and content creation. 

Figure 4. Stakeholders who may influence VR adoption

What is the rationale for VR use in higher education?

Our data revealed five reasons why people choose to use VR in higher education. 

  • Increasing Social Presence
  • Accessing Otherwise Inaccessible Learning Contexts,
  • Understanding and Remembering Visual and Spatial Knowledge
  • Supporting Embodied Learning
  • Attracting Students through Novelty

I am going to talk about the first one — social presence. Our work points out the importance of collaborative social experiences that VR can achieve in students’ learning process. Most participants identified the ability to create a realistic social environment that supports collaboration as one key benefit of VR. Compared with some other benefits of VR, such as the engagement and interest that are brought by its novelty and would eventually fade away, the social presence is a long-lasting benefit because it is derived from the nature of virtual reality.  As one of our participants commented, “Virtual avatars and environment made it easy to get social cues, from facial expressions to body language, without worrying about privacy leaking like showing surroundings in the background on the video.

What challenges do major stakeholders face in using VR technology in educational activities?

We also identified several challenges of using VR in higher education:

  • Course design investments. 
  • Financial consideration.
  • Learning curve. 
  • Technology management (e.g., storage, maintenance, distribution, and in-class management).
  • Health concerns. 

The optimistic predictions about introducing immersive VR into the classroom are based on the fact that the hardware is now much better and cheaper. Health issues are one of the most important challenges and it’s relatable to all disciplines. Motion sickness or cybersickness, eye strain, and headache were the most frequently mentioned health concerns in the interviews. As our participant mentioned, it is extremely important to create an inclusive class and make VR accessible to people in different conditions or capabilities.

Our findings demonstrate that no matter how excited people are about using immersive VR in the classroom now, in most situations instructors can only include this as a small optional experience because of fundamental barriers to equity. For example, if one student experienced a severe sickness, most instructors in our study would choose to no longer use VR. More importantly, when these issues are not randomly distributed in the population, the situation will become more serious. Take gender differences as an example, earlier studies have shown that an advantage of men over women with regard to cybersickness in VR. We can imagine how using VR will hurt gender equity, especially in those already male-dominated fields such as computer science.

Takeaways from this article

  • Collaboration experience is critical for educational VR
  • Ensuring that VR is accessible is the most important challenge to the adoption
  • It’s not about just instructors, it’s about the whole community

Find more information in our paper here

Cite this paper: 

Qiao Jin, Yu Liu, Svetlana Yarosh, Bo Han, and Feng Qian. 2022. How Will VR Enter University Classrooms? Multi-stakeholders Investigation of VR in Higher Education. In Proceedings of the 2022 CHI Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems (CHI ’22). Association for Computing Machinery, New York, NY, USA, Article 563, 1–17.

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