The best VR and AR systems for schools, aka virtual reality and augmented reality systems, can make class more immersive and offer lessons that go beyond the classroom.
By strapping on a VR headset, a student can not only take a virtual tour to a foreign country but one as it was thousands of years ago. The limit really is the imagination, and with many companies creating plenty of VR content to utilize, there are many experiences to be explored.
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Students can immerse themselves in VR and AR in many different ways.
The first is a classroom setup in which a VR system is hooked up to a powerful PC and is used by one student at a time. Or multiple VR headsets can be synced wirelessly so all the students can experience the same thing.
The other option is to take VR out of the classroom and offer decentralized education. Since this requires hardware for the students and a good internet connection, this is a less simple option. Although with affordable platforms such as Google Cardboard, any student's reasonably new phone can become a virtual reality headset.
For the purposes of this feature we're mostly going to look at the methods used in class. Here are the best VR and AR systems for schools.
1. ClassVR: Best Overall
The ClassVR system, by Avantis, is a purpose built VR headset and software package designed for schools. As such, these headsets are solidly built with a plastic shell and wide headband. Each system comes with a pack of eight plus all the kit necessary to get up and training. Crucially, ClassVR also offers a lot of assistance with setting up the install and managing the system, if that's what the school chooses.
The system offers plenty of educational content that is actually curriculum aligned. Since it's all run from a centralized management system, it leaves the teacher in total control and also means you don't need more than one main computer to have it up and running.
Since this ensures all the students see the same content at the same time, it can facilitate a group learning experience, just as with a real class trip, for example. The price is reasonable for what you get but when you compare to affordable options that work from home, it's still a commitment.
2. VR Sync: Best for Use with Multiple Headsets
VR Sync is a digital platform that can be used to send a VR experience to multiple headsets. Since this is simply the software part of that, it leaves the school free to use varying headsets. This is also a great option for a school that allows students to bring in their own headsets from home.
You can add videos, meaning you can make your own or use those downloaded from online. You get full 360-degree video with spatial audio for full immersion. It also offers an option to study analytics of how users interact – aimed more at business users, but it has potential for the classroom too.
Sync VR currently works with Oculus Go, Oculus Quest, Oculus Rift, Pico, Samsung Gear VR, Android, and Vive.
3. Redbox VR: Best for Content
The Redbox VR system is similar to the ClassVR setup, only this offering is created to work with Google Expeditions specifically. As such, it's an ideal way to take a class on a virtual tour of places all over the world, now and in the past.
The system comes in a box with a selection of headsets and all the kit needed for set up and keeping the system charged for use. An optional 360-degree video recording setup allows users to make their own videos – ideal for a virtual tour of the school, for example.
The system comes with a 10.1-inch tablet that allows the teacher to control the experience with ease while still remaining mobile enough to move around the class.
4. Google Cardboard: Best Affordable Option
Google Cardboard is a very, very affordable option. At its most basic, this is a cardboard box with two lenses, and although there are many unofficial versions with plastic build and head straps for a little more, we're still talking under $25 here.
A smartphone is required in the headset to make the magic happen, but the system is still relatively cheap and can work anywhere. A negative as not all students have powerful enough smartphones, or want to risk breaking one.
Since this is part of the Google VR system, you get lots and lots of content that's always being updated. Google Expedition offers virtual school trips all over the world and, of course, it's all free to use. Beyond that, there are educational apps and the ability to create content for viewing. Add that to Google Classroom and you have yourself a very capable VR platform.
5. Windows Mixed Reality: Best for AR
Microsoft's Windows Mixed Reality is an augmented reality (AR) platform that works with Windows 10 devices and a selection of headsets. A fair amount of content is free, created by VictoryVR, but it's nothing compared to the scale of Google. That said, this is curriculum-specific content, so expect it to be useful: From virtual dissections to holographic tours, it's all very immersive.
The big sell here over a lot of VR is that this brings the virtual into the room, allowing students to have their hands recognized to interact with the virtual object as if they were really there. This is Microsoft, so don't expect it to be cheap, but there are a number of partners offering headsets, such as Dell and HP. Microsoft itself offers the Hololens 2.
Of course you can simply use a Windows 10 tablet with no headset for an AR experience too, as a more affordable alternative.
6. Apple AR: Best for Visually Engaging Apps
The Apple AR offering is one that's built for use on its tablets and phones, specifically the LiDAR packing iPad Pro. That means this is an expensive option when it comes to hardware. But for that outlay you get some of the most visually attractive and engaging apps designed specifically for education.
Put a virtual civilization on a school desk or explore the stars during the day, all from a single screen. Of course, if students already own Apple devices that can help to extend the experience without cost to the school. Since this is Apple, expect plenty more apps to come and lots of free options too.