I’m not typically a privacy-conscious person. I have a Google phone and use many Google products yet I know they gobble up data on me at every turn. But then I’m an adult and I have the luxury of choice. My children don’t necessarily have that option in the context of their schools, and that concerns me.

I have been exploring this idea of privacy in relation to immersive virtual reality (IVR) in K-12 environments and during this time I have flip-flopped back and forth on whether I think it actually matters. Educational IVR, where a headset completely immerses a student in the VR experience, is still reasonably expensive and current usage appears to focus on what are essentially virtual field trips. These experiences don’t raise much concern over student privacy and are not where the future of educational IVR is headed. The future involves high-end hardware that allows for mixed reality experiences where a student can interact with virtual elements in the world around them (Lynch, 2020; Lynn, 2019; Quaintance, 2019). And when I dug into how companies see the future of educational IVR I was a little more concerned.

Companies like Veative Labs (2019), a developer of educational IVR platforms, see a future where learning analytics are central to IVR in the classroom. And why not? High-end IVR equipment offers an immense amount of data that can be used to uncover insights on users. If the hardware includes eye and body tracking it can help diagnose autism, reveal sexual orientation, uncover emotional states, and much more (Dick, 2021; Hosfelt & Shadowen, 2020; Miller et al., 2020; Pfeuffer et al., 2019). It isn’t the private companies behind the hardware I’m concerned about, it’s the schools who will be acting on this data.

Consider a future where a student in grade 2 uses IVR to complete a learning assessment. The school has gathered data from previous IVR sessions and is noticing a trend that leads to the realization that this student likely has undiagnosed ADHD. Would this diagnosis help improve their learning potential? Possibly, but is it the school’s role to uncover that information through a learning assessment? My daughter, who is quite young, is a big fan of VR. I asked her recently if she would like to use VR at school and she excitedly said she would. I then asked her if she would still want to use it if it meant the school would be able to find out things about her health or emotional state. She looked at me like I was crazy and said “no, I wouldn’t.” I completely agree with her, but I worry that schools won’t.


References

Dick, E. (2021). Balancing User Privacy and Innovation in Augmented and Virtual Reality. Information Technology and Innovation Foundation. https://itif.org/publications/2021/03/04/balancing-user-privacy-and-innovation-augmented-and-virtual-reality

Hosfelt, D., & Shadowen, N. (2020). Privacy Implications of Eye Tracking in Mixed Reality. ArXiv E-Prints, 2007, 6.

Lynch, M. (2020, November 23). What Will We See From Augmented Reality in the Future? The Tech Edvocate. https://www.thetechedvocate.org/what-will-we-see-from-augmented-reality-in-the-future/

Lynn, A. (2019, May 1). What is the future of VR in education? Electronic Specifier. https://www.electronicspecifier.com/products/vr-ar/opportunity-for-virtual-reality-in-any-subject-area

Miller, M. R., Herrera, F., Jun, H., Landay, J. A., & Bailenson, J. N. (2020). Personal identifiability of user tracking data during observation of 360-degree VR video. Scientific Reports, 10, 1-10. https://doi.org/10.1038/s41598-020-74486-y

Pfeuffer, K., Geiger, M. J., Prange, S., Mecke, L., Buschek, D., & Alt, F. (2019). Behavioural Biometrics in VR: Identifying People from Body Motion and Relations in Virtual Reality. Proceedings of the 2019 CHI Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems, 1–12. https://doi.org/10.1145/3290605.3300340

Quaintance, Z. (2019, April 24). Students Work to Guide Future of VR Learning in High Schools. Government Technology. https://www.govtech.com/education/k-12/Students-Work-to-Guide-Future-of-VR-Learning-in-High-Schools.html

Veative Labs. (2019, October 16). The Future of Education and VR. Veative Labs. https://www.veative.com/blog/future-education-vr/

 

Quaintance, Z. (2019, April 24). Students Work to Guide Future of VR Learning in High Schools. Government Technology. https://www.govtech.com/education/k-12/Students-Work-to-Guide-Future-of-VR-Learning-in-High-Schools.html
Veative Labs. (2019, October 16). The Future of Education and VR. Veative Labs. https://www.veative.com/blog/future-education-vr/