Monday, September 5, 2016

What is an appropriate age for VR?

When I first introduced VR into my classroom using the Gear VR I did what I usually do with most new technology in the classroom.  I sent an email home about it.  Call me old fashioned but I'm the type of teacher who is constantly running through worst case scenarios in my mind.  I could just see it, the whole class was having fun trying out virtual reality and then before you know, I have a kid going into an epileptic shock.  I figured that a quick email home to my parents giving them the ability to opt out would be sufficient protection to start using it in the classroom.  Overly cautious?  Perhaps, but it makes me feel better about what I'm doing.

So what is an appropriate age to start using VR in the classroom?  I will preface this by saying that by no means do I consider myself well-versed in the effects of VR on the adolescent mind.  I tend to think that an overabundance of caution is needed with something like strapping a smartphone within an inch of your eyes.  Luckily, the companies themselves have given us a little bit to go on.

Gear VR and Oculus Rift

Both of these have put out a statements saying that they are not suited for kids under the age of 13.  In fact, when both of these devices run Oculus home, there is a warning that you must click through in order to proceed using the technology that states 13 as the magic number.  In one statement, Oculus' Brendan Iribe pointed out that the age limit was set to align with Facebook's policy of 13 years or older requirement.

HTC Vive

In contrast to Oculus' wares, the HTC Vive has never specifically mentioned an age limit for its headset but has instead said that the hardware is not intended for children.  It's hard to say if they will ever adopt a specific age limit but most of the headsets available include some type of warning about making sure to take breaks particularly if any discomfort is experienced.

Cardboard

In this context, I'll assume that all cardboard viewers are basically the same and the Google Cardboard name encompasses a very broad range of mobile VR experiences.  Google has stated that kids should be supervised by adults while using Cardboard and that it is not intended to be used for long periods of time.
Like any good Dad I decided to do a little experiment and strap on a cheap Cardboard style viewer to my 2-year-old and see what happened.  I should preface that my wife and I try to limit our screen time and while my older kids have tried VR experiences it is never for longer than about 5 minutes at a time.

Conclusion

As a public school teacher, I certainly don't try and tell any of my kids' parents what is best for their child.  For that reason, I suggest open communication between you and the parents of your kids prior to using VR experiences.  Obviously towards the end of high school this becomes more of a moot point.  Moderation is probably key and my opinion as an educator is that most VR educational experiences shouldn't last longer than 5-10 minutes anyway in order to stay engaging.


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