Skip to main content

This is your Donation message.

Virtual Reality in the Art History Classroom?

Published April 29, 2018
Student Authors: Bridge Wilson and Kellie Antonowicz  

Art History Professor Kyle Killian gave his input on the utilization of virtual reality as a tool for teaching art history. Dr. Killian pecializes in archaeology, architectural history, and cultural heritage studies with a primary focus on the Middle Ages.

Dr. Killian has been curious about virtual reality in art history classrooms and he finally got an opportunity to test out a pair of VR goggles: Google Cardboard. At prices as low as $6.99, these goggles portray 3D images and allow the user to enter a virtual world. You can visit the website here.

Destinations can range from the Sistine Chapel to a virtual landscape on a snowy mountain. Dr. Killian is interested in the possibility of studying architecture via the lens of virtual reality.

The National Endowment for the Arts released a study which showed that the percentage of people who visit art museums has been steadily declining over the past twenty years; this is quite a depressing fact for the art history community. However, the number of people who have downloaded some form of digital culture (such as a virtual reality museum tour) has been increasing. These statistics can be found here. Multiple museums have incorporated technologies into their exhibitions. One example is the Detroit Institute of Arts. Visitors can view a Japanese tea ceremony through augmented reality and 3D images, giving the viewer a sense of being in the ceremony. Dr. Killian says that he sees some pedagogical potential with Google Cardboard. Virtual reality could be a useful tool in the classroom.

It does allow you to get a little better sense of being in the building,” he states, “but I don’t think it gives you a better sense than pictures, well-selected, well-represented three-dimensional pictures. It doesn’t go well beyond entertain value.

Another potential problem that Dr. Killian mentioned is the fact that Google Cardboard requires smart phone accessibility; although the VR headset only costs $7, the price of a smartphone is much higher and not every student owns one.


Although there could be pedagogical value of VR in classrooms, Dr. Killian says there is absolutely no research value to this technology. This is because these images—at least the ones on Google Cardboard—are not specific, not focused, and do not replicate the experience of actually being in front of the building. However, he states that there is one potential use for Google Cardboard: building a virtual exhibit. Students can create and view a museum space, as in the Museum Objects class. “I can see that being a very nice way of augmenting our limited museum space,” Dr. Killian says, “in an inexpensive way involving students in aspects of their classes.”