Accessibility of Educational Virtual Reality for Children during the COVID-19 Pandemic
This article provides an exploratory inquiry into children’s use of educational Virtual Reality (VR) at home, thereby complementing prior experimental research about the effects of VR on children. In order to assess the potentially innovative role that VR can play in remote instruction, this study collected data from parents and legal guardians reporting on their children’s VR use at home during the first wave of the shelter-in-place measures resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic. From April to July 2020, parents and legal guardians who own VR devices participated in a survey (n = 311), longitudinal follow-up surveys (n = 60) and in-depth interviews (n = 20). The results indicate how VR can function as an innovative tool for socioemotional learning in a situation of remote instruction by (1) enhancing school materials and (2) sparking conversations about current affairs. Additionally, the results highlight two main barriers obstructing children’s learning with VR. First, VR technology is gendered and may hinder the usage of both women and girls. Second, educational content is hard to find and lacks contextualizing complementary materials. With regards to the first barrier, the authors argue that the gender issue should be addressed in order to make VR more accessible to all children. This article addresses the second barrier by providing a database of educational VR applications. Ultimately, educational VR applications should be complemented with contextualizing materials to reach VR’s potential as an innovative learning tool.