Keeping students safe and well in VR

Have you ever been cybersick? It’s just like being seasick or car sick. It can range from feeling mildly ill to being highly nauseated. Not everyone gets cybersick but many people do and it’s just one aspect of health and safety that needs consideration when using immersive VR in classrooms.

A lot of research is going on to determine who is most susceptible to cybersickness, and under what conditions. Cybersickness can come on even after a very short period of exposure, particularly in highly immersive VR where a person can have intense feelings of ‘being there’ and ‘move’ in the environment through navigation or interaction.

At this stage, not much is known about the health effects of highly immersive VR, especially on children and young people. In light of this, the VR School Research Team are committed to conducting the project with caution and to the highest ethical and safety standards. Before using highly immersive VR, teachers should read the safety and regulatory guidelines provided by manufacturers on their websites. These guidelines recommend minimum age of use requirements and outline potential adverse reactions including, but not limited to, photo sensitivity and a range of physical and psychological impacts. It should also be noted that current commercial head mounted displays (headsets) are not designed for the size of children’s heads in terms of fit and lens distance for correct alignment with the eyes of the user.

To identify potential adverse reactions, we reviewed the scientific literature and the safety and regulatory guidelines produced by manufacturers. From these, the team designed a VR School Health and Safety Survey, that can be found in Resources. We used this to screen for potential adverse reactions and minimise risk of harm to students and disruption to learning. For example, a student with moderate or severe cybersickness would have a recovery time that impacted not only their learning during the VR lesson, but into the school day.

Disruption to learning caused by exposure to VR is simply not acceptable, nor is the potential for more serious health impacts on student health.

The screening survey we developed was sent home to parents and carers with an information sheet on the project so that they could discuss health and safety with their child, and ensure informed consent.

As the field of immersive VR for learning matures, we welcome the open sharing of information from teachers, students and researchers alike on how to screen for and minimise health risks for students. This is an important new area that requires the formalisation of guidelines, the development of practical tools, and the documentation of case studies so that we can all use VR safely in classrooms.

Erica Southgate, VR Enthusiast and Associate Professor of Education, University of Newcastle, Australia

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