Virtual Reality and Remembrance Day

2018 marks 100 years since the end of the Great War. One of the bloodiest conflicts of human history, the First World War brought with it unprecedented levels of destruction and by the time the guns fell silent in 1918 it had claimed over 16 million lives.

Teachers across the world will be talking with their students this week and trying to find a way to explain the horrors of World War One to children who have never experienced anything even close to the horrors of the battlefields of the Western Front. The sheer scale of human loss is, thankfully, unimaginable to the vast majority of us, however explaining how and why these events took place is a vital part of World History.

Chris Bass, Educational Specialist

Chris Bass
Avantis Educational Specialist (UK)

delville wood cemetery 360 image

I remember learning about WW1 in secondary school and finding it difficult to understand. The scale of it didn’t make sense to me and I couldn’t picture the enormity of the battlefields. That changed when I visited the battlefields of the Western Front on a school trip. I saw rows upon rows of graves and read thousands of carved names at the Somme and suddenly it started to make sense. This is where virtual reality is an incredibly powerful tool for the classroom; giving students a chance to transport themselves to the graveyard at Delville Wood and see first-hand the white headstones stretching into the distance makes the unimaginable numbers they have been taught suddenly very imaginable.

Alternatively, they can watch a 3D simulation of a trench from the point of view of a soldier at the Somme. Putting themselves in the shoes of one of the young men living amongst the mud and rain in France will help build a deeper sense of empathy and understanding for the human cost of the war. Listening to the sounds of trench warfare makes the idea much more real, whether for inspiring writing around the subject, giving context to historical topics or simply for building empathy and understanding.

WW1 trench 3D

As schools all over the UK and beyond remember those who fought and died for their country it becomes ever more important to help our students understand the sacrifices that have been made by service men and women throughout history, but as time passes and young people are less and less connected to those who died a hundred years ago it can be hard for them to comprehend. How can they remember that which they have never experienced?

VR is now allowing students and teachers alike to give themselves a personal connection to the past and develop a deeper level of empathy than ever before. As philosopher George Santayana famously said; ‘Those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it.’ Teaching the next generation of students about why war happens is important, however giving them a glimpse through the eyes of the people that war affects goes beyond this and begins to allow them to understand and start to learn from the past at a personal level.