Virtual reality and robot teachers: it´s the school of the future Virtual reality and robot teachers: it´s the school of the future


Virtual reality and robot teachers: it's the school of the future

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Imagine studying the solar system by immersing yourselves into outer space: observing the planets and their movements in all three dimensions, as if they were right in front of you. Or learning history by freely exploring the Machu Picchu archaeological site, but without ever leaving the classroom.
These are just two examples of the vast potential for virtual reality in the learning and education industry, which allows students to be transported to the most remote corners of the globe, deep down into the ocean and out into orbit too.
All you need to do is put on a visor and you’ll be catapulted into detailed virtual reconstructions, able to enjoy full freedom of movement and manoeuvre at will.

All this is already a reality for millions of students and their teachers, who can use online applications and platforms like Google Educationalor Discovery VR (which has had more than four million downloads) to download all the materials required for virtual voyages conceived specifically for educational purposes.
You do not need substantial financial resources: some of the programmes are even free of charge, while visors suitable for education through VR (virtual reality) cost no more than a few tens of euros.
However, the benefits for the students are of great value: for instance, geography students at King’s Ely, an independent British school, have used virtual reality to explore and study the barrier reef in class.  

Some students lay on the floor, guided by us, to observe the corals

explained Alan Parkinson, one of the teachers.

We had immediate and very positive reactions; it was as if they were actually there.

Alan Parkinson

What about Italy?
We are seeing the first classes equipped with virtual reality in Italy too, for example Kennedy primary school in Bresso (outskirts of Milan), where the first European classroom entirely dedicated to MVR (mixed virtual reality) was set up:
From discovering anatomy, visiting terrestrial geographic environments, museum tours through to Machu Picchu, from digital painting to observing the universe, children can have a memorable experience, expanding their knowledge and actively taking part in learning processes through an innovative digital technique that engages all students”, said Emanuela Salamina, the teacher in charge of the new technologies.
Obviously, there are downsides too: some fear that all this enthusiasm, from students and teachers, could fade as soon as the novelty effect wears off; others highlight the risk of mixing two worlds that should remain apart: entertainment and education.
But the path seems set. In fact, over the next years augmented reality will enter the classroom too: augmented reality is a technology which – thanks to smartphones and special visors – allows the user to see virtual objects in the real world (allowing the user to place, for instance, the digital reconstruction of a hurricane on the teacher's desk).
School trips won't be the same either: students will be able to digitally interact with the monuments and artworks of European capital cities, receive detailed and personalised information, watch historical videos and view images related to the places being visited, and much more besides. In other words, accessing the virtual world does not mean being confined to the classroom all the time, but rather boosting the overall potential of teaching.

However, the digital transformation of schools does not concern teaching material alone: students at some primary schools in New Zealand will be introduced to Will, a software with a human-like face (projected onto a screen), which will teach students about environmental sustainability and responsible consumption as well as the main traits and potential of renewable energies. Students will interact with Will via computers, tablets and smartphones, communicating with and answering questions posed by artificial intelligence.
“The children's reaction to Will really was fascinating”, said Nikhil Ravishankar, Chief Digital Officer of the manufacturer, Vector, in a statement. “I have a lot of hope in this technology's capacity to deliver effective, rich, educational experiences into the future”.
In fact, in future these software will be able to adapt to the learning style of each individual student, thus making customised learning in schools a reality and supporting (but not replacing) the teachers in their work.
The school year that is about to begin has plenty of novelties in store, also thanks to the many surprises TIM's Scuola Digitale has planned for Italy. Basically, the world of education is entering a new digital era: a future to be faced with a bit of caution, but which is brimming with fascination and potential.