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The Ethics of VR Usage with Children

Session 5
Lisa Castaneda & Marc Pacampara — foundry10

We would like to facilitate dialogue regarding the ethical use of VR with children. VR has great potential for helping children learn (our research has demonstrated some of the possible benefits within classrooms across thousands of children). Yet, at the same time we are noticing that educators may not be clearly considering the potential physiological and psychological impacts of the VR content they are using. Our research has shown that even fairly innocuous seeming content may trigger anxiety in children depending on their lived experiences. How can we maintain the excitement and engagement of using this emerging technology while simultaneously being aware of the potential risks and ethical implications of the content? For instance, VR is highly touted as being a useful tool for empathy. How do we, as educators, scaffold learning around empathy while respecting student boundaries and comfort levels in this immersive environment?

We’ve collected data from teachers, students and developers in over 40 schools and from our work, we feel this is a relevant and important conversation to be having regarding technological implementation. This type of conversation would be useful to encourage dialogue amongst administrators, educators, teacher coaches and technology-focused staff. We will use data from our work, anecdotal stories from teachers and students and research topics from the social sciences as jumping off points for reflective conversation.

Conversational Practice

The conversational practice we would like to utilize is “What? So What? Now What?” The ethics of VR usage with children should be a topic of discussion as more classrooms adopt the technology. Based on our research and that of other researchers and educators, we will engage participants in dialogue about the implications of VR use in everyday classrooms. Conversing about the ethical implementation of emerging technology usage is an important and relevant topic for 21st-Century educators. We would like to create a handout sheet that describes scenarios we have seen in our data and in classrooms to have participants discuss together and then we will debrief as a large group.

Our plan is to use the following set of prompts to engage participants in both small and large group discussions to further their understanding (and even their own questions) about VR use with children. We will open with a more general research prompt to get at the “What?” aspect of the conversation. We then will use actual scenarios (the “So What?” component) that occurred in our research environments as jumping off points for additional conversations. Participants will share out ideas, thoughts and concerns. We then close, with the “Now What?” of how we can move forward in considering this emerging technology with children.

Research by Bailey and Bailenson (2017) discusses how there is limited research on the impacts of putting children into immersive spaces and then pulling them out. Given the lack of information about this topic, how can we, as educators, be proactive and take a mindful approach to engaging with immersion and our students? A middle school teacher was very excited to have his students try an underwater VR experience that involves a large, to-scale, sized whale. As adults, we did not experience any negative effects and found this to be a peaceful piece of content. He put all students into the experience and in our data, some students wrote about their anxiety regarding being underwater, seeing a large whale and not understanding what they were experiencing. How can we determine what might be a trigger for students content-wise? Another educator, put his students in a 9/11 experience where they had to try to get out of one of the towers. The students actually felt that this experience helped them to understand the events that day more clearly, however, adults who experienced it felt very uncomfortable. How do we weigh the value of understanding an event that students may not feel an emotional connection to (none of this group were alive at that time) versus the potential psychological impact it may have? People are very excited by the idea of VR for empathy. Our data from students suggests that they believe they will understand places better than people through the use of VR. Why might this be the case? How might VR tackle empathy in ways that other mediums do not? In an example of place, students walked out of a teacher-led experience with solitary confinement in a Prisons and Protests class, not seeing people in the VR experience but through their view of “place” had a strong understanding of the inhumane conditions of solitary confinement. Though this worked well in the upper-class school setting, what might be some implications of content such as this in a more broad socio-demographic group? Because there is such a vast array of mixed research on both the benefits (social anxiety, ADHD, physical therapy, phobias, learning, bias, empathy) of VR and the potential drawbacks (anxiety, triggers, false memories in young children, physiological side-effects) as we leave today, how can we ethically and thoughtfully approach the technology as we move ahead?

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