Virtual, augmented, and mixed reality (VR/AR/MR, collectively XR) technologies offer both exciting and frightening prospects for a future in which we live and learn in a hybrid of the real and virtual worlds - what some refer to as the metaverse. Although that future may be a decade or more away, today's XR technology is ready and capable of providing effective teaching tools at a low cost. In this article, I'll give you some tips on where to begin and how to get started.

Choose a platform.

Virtual reality experiences are powerful, but they're also time-consuming, requiring committed time, space, and technology. This is less expensive (£300 for an excellent headset: the Oculus Quest 2) than most people believe. VR provides realistic and engaging experiences that provide a feeling of place, size, and 3D structure to individuals who have access to the necessary resources. A virtual geology field trip to see a far-off space and gather measurements/virtual photographs is one example.

Although AR experiences may not yet deliver on their promise of a seamless augmented overlay on the environment, they are accessible to everybody with a contemporary smartphone. AR allows you to place virtual things in their proper context and give them a feeling of 3D structure and size in the real world. Users can converse about such items via annotations, zooming and rotating, or (with sophisticated kit) natural motions in shared AR experiences.

Students learning about a complicated biological system such as the beating heart, for example, might be able to peel back layers while discussing it with their peers.

Of course, the platform you choose will be determined by the available hardware and software, but you should also evaluate whether you want to experience a whole environment (VR) or an isolated item (AR), as well as whether or not leaving your real-world surroundings is desirable (VR) (AR). Both technologies provide a 3D medium as well as a suspension of the physical constraints that exist in the actual world. Any discipline dealing with 3D themes, or items of study that are unsafe, inaccessible, or expensive, might benefit.

XR software is mostly pre-made programs that come with all of the tools, objects, and models you'll need. There is a plethora of medical VR applications, space excursions, and historical VR experiences available (for example, The Body VR, Mission: ISS, Titanic VR). While such applications make excellent use of VR's unique qualities, the odds of finding material that suits your precise educational needs are small (see Project Mobius).

There is a solution: software that provides the tools but allows you to provide the content. This is what YouTube and PowerPoint do when they provide the platform but you provide the material. Several XR systems, notably Spatial, have evolved that provide this level of customization.

The "bring your own material" method appears to fulfil the demands of XR in education, given the necessity for quality control. So, where do you go to receive the information?

Content

There are already large 3D libraries of objects and settings, ranging from generalist professional and commercial databases like TurboSquid to domain-specific and open-access databases like Europeana. The first place to look for the stuff you're looking for should be existing databases. Sketchfab is my go-to resource, where educators can get incredible high-quality materials for free or for a little fee (usually £25 or less).

If that fails, you may use photogrammetry to collect your own content using smartphone and tablet apps (take lots of photos and the software stitches them into a model). Since 2020, the newest iPad and iPhone versions have had depth-sensing, which greatly enhances the precision that can be obtained (3D Scanner App on iOS).

Finally, you may hire a 3D artist to generate the material you want. The cost can vary widely, but once completed, the 3D model will be an asset that can be utilised indefinitely and will secure posterity.