The Journal of Extension -

April 2020 // Volume 58 // Number 2 // Tools of the Trade // v58-2tt5

Using Virtual Reality Equipment to Enhance Learning in Extension Youth Programming

This article provides information on how to use virtual reality equipment to increase participant engagement as well as suggestions for incorporating virtual reality activities into Extension youth programming. These are lessons learned through the use of virtual reality by Extension faculty. Virtual reality equipment can increase participant engagement and improve learning.

Elizabeth Davis
Extension Assistant Professor

Callie Ward
Extension Assistant Professor

David Francis
Extension Professor

Utah State University
Logan, Utah


As technology progresses, so should Extension's use of it (Wallace, 2018). In 1995, Professor S. Joseph Levine stated, "As educators, we must . . . take advantage of new technology. Not just to play with gadgets, but to create new approaches to fulfilling a person's desire to learn" (para. 8). Now 25 years later, with an ongoing explosion of new technology, that statement remains true. Virtual reality is one example of a new technology that is just beginning to be used by Extension personnel. Virtual reality can influence all realms of Extension, including 4-H, family and consumer sciences, and agriculture.

Virtual reality is the use of computer technology to create a simulated environment. Unlike traditional interfaces, virtual reality places the user inside an experience (Bardi, 2019). Virtual reality equipment, previously an expensive novelty, is now readily available as a means for increasing engagement and improving learning (Siegle, 2019). One of the many advantages of using virtual reality to engage learners is that it is applicable for numerous topics. For those interested in incorporating this type of technology into existing programming, the information, lessons learned, and helpful hints described herein will help.

Use of Virtual Reality in Youth Programming

There are unlimited possibilities for the use of virtual reality in Cooperative Extension. We have used virtual reality specifically for youth programming. For example, we have successfully enhanced programming by having youths

  • participate in a virtual field trip to the 9/11 Memorial on September 11, 2018, as part of a memorial program,
  • conduct a virtual examination of a healthy lung while learning fitness techniques, and
  • engage in a virtual tour of Mars and the International Space Station while studying engineering and design in space.

After the virtual tour of the 9/11 Memorial, one adolescent participant stated, "I wasn't born when 9/11 happened. I've seen video footage of it several times but taking a virtual tour of the Memorial was an incredible experience" (teenaged participant, personal communication, September 11, 2018).

Purchasing or Assembling a Virtual Reality Kit

Classroom virtual reality kits are available for purchase for approximately $2,000 through electronic box stores or online. The advantages of purchasing a kit are that a kit includes necessary equipment (e.g., a tablet, a router, 10 headsets, 10 smartphones) and is self-contained in a hard case that facilitates transportation and protects the equipment.

Alternatively, with a little effort, assembling a virtual reality kit can be done less expensively. Routers cost approximately $50, headsets around $10, and a plastic storage tote is about $15. Asking students, parents, and community members to donate their old smartphones further minimizes the cost. Another option for keeping expenses low is relying on participants to use their smartphones for the expeditions.

How to Use Virtual Reality Equipment

There are multiple apps available for virtual reality. We prefer to use the free "Google Expeditions" app to facilitate the experiences we provide. This immersive app allows participants to experience over 1,000 virtual expeditions. Expeditions range from voyages under the sea to trips to outer space, and topics covered include everything from geology to human gestation stages. Additionally, the app includes learning prompts and discussion points the facilitator can use while guiding an expedition.

Some helpful hints for getting started are as follows:

  • Fully charge all devices in advance.
  • Download the desired expeditions onto the device that will be guiding the expedition.
  • Connect (via Bluetooth) each of the headsets to the router Wi-Fi connection.
  • Test the expedition before class to be sure that everything is linked.
  • Clear a safe space to conduct the expedition. A big, open space is ideal, but virtual tours can be done carefully in smaller areas.
  • Before handing out the headsets, demonstrate proper use of a headset, such as how to hold it and correct placement on the face.

Additional Considerations


Have students work in pairs, taking turns using the headsets. This method builds in break times, mitigating motion sickness. Also, working with a partner allows one participant to watch out for the safety of the other during the expedition.


The router is necessary for syncing the phones to the tablet that is guiding the expedition and requires a consistent power source.


Wi-Fi is not needed for the expeditions to be successful. However, it is necessary to have Internet access to download the expeditions to the tablet before the activity.

Content Creation

In addition to using existing tours available for free online, educators can use the free tour and a 360° camera to create personalized content.


The use of virtual reality equipment with Google Expeditions has engaged participants and supported learning. Some ideas for expeditions include virtually visiting museums and archeology sites as part of an archeology program, effectively combining physical and virtual realities to enhance the learning process, or completing a tour of the U.S. Capitol while studying U.S. history. There are hundreds of expeditions and countless possible applications to engage participants and support learning. When well used, virtual reality can increase participation and provide experiential learning opportunities that support the retention of information.


The mention or display of a trademark of a proprietary product does not constitute an endorsement by Utah State University Cooperative Extension and does not imply approval to the exclusion of other suitable products or firms. The use of any product(s) noted in this article is solely due to the decision of the author.

Recommendations for Further Reading

"Will virtual reality drive deeper learning?" by Holly Korbey, July 2017. Available on the edutopia website:


Bardi, J. (2019). What is virtual reality? [Definition and examples]. Retrieved January 26, 2020, from

Levine, S. J. (1995). Taking advantage of new technology for education. Journal of Extension, 33(4), Article 4COM2. Available at:

Siegle, D. (2019). Seeing is believing: Using virtual and augmented reality to enhance student learning. Gifted Child Today, 42(1), 46–52.

Wallace, H. (2018). Augmented reality: Exploring its potential for Extension. Journal of Extension, 56(5), Article v56-5a1. Available at:

Woods, K. (2010). Engaging emerging populations of adults with interactive activities in a 3D virtual learning environment. Journal of Extension, 48(5), Article v48-5a3. Available at: