I was excited when our group selected virtual reality (VR) as our technology for this course. It’s something I have had minimal experience with, know little about, and therefore it offers enormous potential for me to learn and grow in my understanding of it. The little experience I do have with VR is only within the context of gaming and general time-wasting, though our project team recently met to explore the use of VR within a creative and interpretive educational context. This changed my perspective on potential uses for VR to include the creative expression of unique contextual meaning from one’s learning. I’m also intrigued by its potential to do more than just entertain thanks to the almost endless ways it can provide students with the experience, practice, and exploration in ways that could be prohibitively difficult or expensive otherwise. But with these possibilities comes the need to address the ethical issues that arise when private corporations control the hardware and software behind our educational technology. What are the risks when companies that focus data gathering, such as Facebook or Google, are behind the VR equipment run in a classroom? Even in our own team’s learning experience, Michael had to share our final product through Google since the software used was also created by Google. In this context, couldn’t there be a more secure way for students to share their creations?

Though the uses for VR in my own educational sphere appear to be limited at present, I have young children who will be directly affected by these ethical issues. Though I have not been privy to the decision-making processes, the COVID-19 pandemic has given me the impression schools may select a tool that is simply the easiest to implement rather than the one that cares about the security of the student. The process of developing custom educational applications for VR can be complex and expensive, but what are the long-term implications of allowing a private company to potentially track the movement, facial expressions, and other data of every student using the software?

I would love to hear about different experiences this MALAT group has had with VR in an educational context; both the good and the bad. What are your concerns around having private companies behind educational technology? What about future potential for schools to gather sensitive data from VR use? Do you think open, untracked, and private VR is possible before the technology has developed and grown to a degree that is as ubiquitous as the other educational technology we use (e.g., computers, smartphones, online apps/games, etc? What about the idea that the benefits the technology can bring to education outweighs the potential risks of having a corporation gather data through its use? I welcome all discussion on this topic as it is still quite new to me and your input will help me better understand how to approach my research.