I’m going to make a bold statement here.
As I traverse and explore the world of social-emotional learning (SEL) in my new business, I am becoming better versed and attuned to the best practices among all the wonderful ways to implement social-emotional learning, youth development, and 21st-century skill building both in and out of school time. (And, I am learning every day #alwaysastudent). I read all the time, there is so much emphasis on the concept of working with the whole child. Now research is bursting about SEL’s impact on our youth. I read articles and opinions, listening to educator specialists at conferences who are observing and releasing research that proves that kids learn better when they’re social-emotionally grounded. We have known this!
I am simultaneously beginning to notice a rise in tech companies or tech educators who are saying and producing articles and blogs that say: virtual reality (VR) and technology will help kids communicate better, increase their social-emotional capacity or empathy, and that it can improve their behavior. WHAT’S WRONG WITH THIS PICTURE?
Let’s be clear, I think we must be very careful about this message.
I believe it’s a stretch to say that kids are becoming more connected by using virtual reality. Look at the definition. Virtual reality: the computer-generated simulation of a three-dimensional image or environment that can be interacted with in a seemingly real or physical way by a person using special electronic equipment, such as a helmet with a screen inside or gloves fitted with sensors. If you just look at the physical basics of putting on headphones, gloves or a set of goggles, a person is automatically physically disconnecting from human communication. These devices put a person in a false environment, while it ‘feels’ real, there isn’t an authentic connection, just a feeling based on what messages the mind is reviewing. This is a disconnection and can become confusing to young people while their brain is in its development stages. It’s not a true connection to their five senses in real time. Again, this is only a simulated experience. How are we to expect our youth to behave in the real world with effective communication skills and life skills if they are depending on VR to teach them?
In an article from Edsurge.com, there is an example of a responsible way to work with kids and VR. But note the last portion where it reads, “A report Bailenson co-authored for Common Sense Media highlights the research that has—and has not—explored the effects of virtual reality on children. It states that the ‘potentially negative outcomes of VR include impacts on children’s sensory systems and vision, aggression, and unhealthy amounts of escapism and distraction from the physical world.’”
I believe, while we need kids to be able to use devices and virtual reality simulations to learn and remain 21st-century skill builders and capable leaders, they will not learn nearly as much while using devices only. They WILL learn more by interacting with people in person, talking over the phone, having face to face meetings (even over Zoom or Skype), schedule walking meetings, having dinners with no devices, and so and on. Can you add onto this list?
My request… find the balance. Open minds and hearts more over opening your phone, texting, and personal messaging on social media sites. Find the necessary balance between both worlds. Be very conscious of the cool virtual reality that is tricking our senses into believing that the experience is as real as a real one.
Be a leader with your students and have discussions about touching (in an appropriate manner) in real time, connecting with each other, looking up from devices when walking down the street, make eye contact, learn how to give a real handshake, understand how to talk about yourself without using an emoji, how be a strong interviewer, and team player in person. And that when you ‘level up,’ it doesn’t make you more connected, it just jacks up your adrenaline. It’s only temporary, I promise. If your students are loving VR, bring them back down to earth and have a real conversation about human connection.
Just find the balance.
For breakfast, I had the keto coffee. That is all.