Will virtual reality classes replace traditional education?

The virtual class trip has only just begun

In his middle school in Radtstadt im Pongau, the 33-year-old has been working with self-made explanatory videos for five years now, which practically turn lessons upside down: the name of this concept is the flipped classroom, which (partially) relocates traditional frontal teaching at home, where the students are be able to watch the explanatory video several times. In school, this frees up more time for practice and individual support - depending on whether a student has not yet understood something or is perhaps a lot further than the others. “I wanted to gain more time for that,” says Stangl. "I can then go into more detail with the students."

There are many hurdles. This is how the lessons, which start again tomorrow, Monday, in the east of the country, do not yet look in all schools. The Salzburg teacher is one of the digital pioneers. In fact, there are some efforts in Austria to catch up in terms of digitization. But there are still a few hurdles to overcome. In schools, the Internet is often neither wireless nor fast. If it is available, appropriate devices are often missing. And even the best equipment is of no use if the teachers cannot do anything with the technology. Many still seem to be unfamiliar with it. Three out of four Austrian teachers feel (rather) poorly prepared for digitization, including of course more older than young. A fifth of the next generation of teachers also complain of inadequate digital training. With further training, in innovation hubs or in learning labs at the universities of teacher education, teachers should learn how they can actually use the new media pedagogically and didactically. Because it's not just about swapping the book for an e-book or the slate for the digital whiteboard. However, it is not always easy to motivate teachers to do so (see interview on the right).

Estonia - a digital model student - has solved this in its own way: there schools that presented a good digital concept were allowed to pick up lavish financial support and hardware, from laptops to drones. The teachers who continued their training were also financially rewarded. All Estonian educators are now digitally trained. 40 percent have been trained as IT experts. They even learned to program.

Austria is still a long way from that. However, there are definitely interesting digital initiatives in schools - depending on the equipment and motivation: Some teachers, like Stangl, produce explanatory videos for at home or offer their students online forums in which they can exchange ideas while studying for their school work. At others, students use their own smartphones to playfully solve tasks or present solutions. Still other teachers are experimenting with augmented reality apps that can conjure up organs into a bare biology skeleton and show students historical places. Or they do digital hour repetitions.

These are minor harbingers of how digitization could revolutionize teaching. You can get a foretaste of the future at education fairs like in London, where it also becomes clear that start-ups and online giants sense a billion-dollar business in schools.

Companies are presenting virtual reality programs there, with which entire classes can make a pilgrimage to Machu Picchu in Peru, fly into space or wander over historic battlefields. Other learning programs collect data and document how long the students learn, which tasks they solve, where they have problems - and can spit out individually suitable tasks for each student. The teacher no longer has to worry about that. He can follow the progress of each individual student on the screen in real time.

Josef Buchner understands that some are skeptical here. He co-founded the Flipped Classroom Austria initiative, is now researching media didactics in Essen and warns against overly technocratic interpretations. The students stubbornly sit down in front of a device so that they can do the exercises selected by the computer until they get a certain number right: “This is a horror idea for me. This is exactly what we need to prevent and show that technology is good for other things. "It is a tool that can facilitate and support some steps, but:" Learning cannot be automated. "

Into the sea with glasses. One example of how it could work is what he recently implemented at a German elementary school: he let children dive into the sea with the help of virtual reality glasses. Then they took off their glasses again to talk about what they saw and to solve related tasks in a team. "You use the medium to create something that is otherwise not possible - but then you go back to reality and into social exchange." That is what it is basically about: not technology for technology's sake - but when it is is educationally and didactically meaningful.

In any case, Buchner says that children in the digital learning setting only watch videos instead of reading, are only made use of, instead of perhaps laboriously familiarizing themselves with a topic, as some criticize. “We have to stop thinking in terms of drawers and either / or.” His idea is to use the smartphone and analog text, the tablet and the book. Whereby the paper schoolbook could at some point - if the equipment is available - be replaced by the (increasingly interactive) digital book, not least in order to make the school bag lighter. But here too, the following applies: Maybe it makes sense in one subject, but not in another.

Young people are digital. “We're expanding the class, we're not replacing it,” says AHS teacher Alicia Bankhofer (48). In the Anton-Krieger-Gasse in Vienna, she uses explanatory videos that the all-day schoolchildren use directly in class: For example, instructions on how to begin a letter in English. Pupils sometimes make book reviews as videos, and they can create vocabulary lists on their mobile phones. “The children and young people are online. They are on YouTube, they live in the digital world, ”says Bankhofer. "And I see it as an obligation that we try to support learning in such a way that everyone is addressed."

The teacher does not want to let go of the fact that the use of digital media destroys the relationship that is currently important in learning. "On the contrary. There are hard working teachers who teach analog and have zero relationship with the children, ”she says. “I consciously enter into a relationship with the children - and thanks to digitization I can do it more than before.” She doesn't stand in front of me for a long time to explain again and again what the viferous children may have understood the first time, but have time to cater to individual students. "I don't know anyone who says: Here you have the iPads - have fun, I'm knitting a sweater now."