Virtual reality headsets are becoming more common and affordable. This device generates realistic images, sounds and other sensations that mimic really life environments. “Learning by doing” is a model that has been practiced in schools for many years now. Virtual reality (VR) is becoming more popular in education because it allows the user to interact with the space and objects depicted in the space. However, due to this technology being new, there is a lack of research to predict the long term effects.
Many brands such as The Oculus Rift and Samsung’s Gear VR headsets are recommended for ages 13+. Google said that their relatively low-tech cardboard headset “should be used by kids only under adult supervision.” The problem with these claims is that these companies have offered little explanation for the given ages. Marientina Gotsis, director of the Creative Media & Behavioral health Center at the University of Southern California School of Cinematic Arts decided to research where these assigned ages are coming from and she found very little science to support them. According to this Life Science article, “We do not have enough data on the safety of current VR technology for children,” [Gotsis] told Live Science. “So, the sparsity of research data and what we know about neuroplasticity [the brain’s ability to reorganize itself] and children does not make me comfortable to recommend what is available now as is.”
In a study done with rats, researchers were able to find that “neurons in a brain region associates with spatial learning behaved completely differently in virtual reality compared to in real ones, with more than half of the neurons shutting down while in VR. What this means for humans is unclear, but the scientists said it highlighted the need for more research on the long-term effects of VR.”
Children’s brains are very “plastic” and prolonged exposure to these devices could potentially create damage. Children also lack the ability to voice how the device makes them feel both physically on their head but also internally such as a strain on their eyes. Virtual reality is not much different than a child watching TV for long periods of times. For many years now parents have been against their children watching TV for too long or likewise, playing video games for an extended amount of time. With no research to defend why these devices are safe or unsafe for children to use, many researchers are hesitant to promote VR to children and VR to be used in elementary education.