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  • Writer's pictureJoanne Jacobs

VR is powerful — is it dangerous for kids?

Australian students walked on the moon, virtually, in 2016. Photo: Troy Snook

Virtual reality technology, which creates an interactive, immersive experience, is “arguably the most powerful medium in history,” writes Jeremy Bailenson, a Stanford communications professor and co-author of Virtual Reality 101: What You Need to Know About Kids and VR, published with Common Sense Media. However, “when it comes to VR and kids, we just don’t know that much,” he concedes.

Among the findings of an online survey of parents:

  1. 21 percent of parents own a VR device.

  2. 13 percent plan to buy a VR device in the next year.

  3. Only 43 percent of parents said virtual reality is appropriate for children under 13.

  4. The most common uses of VR were playing games (76 percent), watching videos (38 percent), and exploring environments (33 percent.)

  5. Parents’ biggest concerns are exposure to sexual or violent content.

Sixty percent of parents are concerned about negative health effects of their children’s VR use. While 62 percent think VR has educational benefits, only 22 percent say their child used the device for learning.

It can be hard to tell what’s really real and what’s virtual, Bailensen’s research for the Virtual Human Interaction Lab has shown. In one study, many elementary-age children who’d gone swimming with whales — virtually — later believed the experience had happened in real life.

Bailensen suggests parents supervise and limit children’s virtual reality time. He advises 5- to 10-minute sessions for young children and 20 minutes for older children and young adults.

VR in K-12 schools raises high hopes and serious concerns, reports Ed Week.

With its popular Cardboard and Expeditions products, Google has pushed to make “virtual field trips” an everyday experience for K-12 students. And Facebook recently announced it would give every high school in Arkansas a virtual-reality package, consisting of computers, cameras, and its Oculus Rift headset.

However, there’s not much software with educational content.

The future of education is virtual, declares Vivek Wadhwa, a Carnegie Mellon professor. He imagines a virtual tutor taking children on an expedition to ancient Egypt.

Watching the design and construction of the pyramids, children learn the geometry of different types of triangles and the mathematics behind these massive timeless monuments. They also gain an understanding of Egyptian history and culture by following the minds of the geniuses who planned and constructed them.

“Within two or three years, VR headsets will cost less than $100 and have built-in artificial intelligence chips,” he predicts.

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