Navigating the XR Educational Landscape: Privacy, Safety, and Ethical Guidelines

Future Work

The Need to Consider the Digital Divide

The COVID-19 pandemic accentuated the existing digital divide. K–12 districts and postsecondary institutions had to rush to procure hotspots or loaner laptops to provide a minimum level of connectivity for low-income students and students living in areas with limited internet connectivity. There have been numerous stories of students having to drive several miles to a Starbucks or McDonald's to find a reliable internet connection and complete assignments.

To what extent should institutions be worried that the use of XR for instructional purposes will accentuate this digital divide? How will high-latency/low-bandwidth connectivity further hurt students? Will institutions' loaner programs be able to address the need for XR devices? In situations where students are expected to have their own XR devices, will low-income students be forced to trade privacy in exchange for access to low-cost/subsidized XR devices? Is XR going to become a valuable asset for institutions that can afford it?


To address the digital divide in the context of XR technology, institutions should prioritize equitable access by implementing device-loaner programs and partnering with local ISPs to improve internet connectivity. Privacy safeguards are essential for subsidized devices, and the integration of XR should not disadvantage less privileged students. Advocacy for increased funding and research collaboration can further support efforts to foster digital inclusion and understand the impact of XR technologies.

The Need to Add Contextual Privacy

In the long term, institutions likely will need to rely on some form of contextual privacy technology to address different types of privacy requirements based on usage scenarios and location. For example, physical spaces used for instruction should be able to inform XR devices that external scanning/digitization activities must be restricted to local processing and not be transmitted to cloud providers.

To the best of our knowledge, such technology does not yet exist. Such technologies could be based on the following:

  • QR codes or markers printed on the walls of classrooms/private spaces
  • Beacon-type technologies (BLE/Zigbee)
  • Wi-Fi-based location data

Many challenges accompany a contextual-based privacy approach. First, is contextual-based privacy feasible given the complex ecosystem of a college or university campus (physical, digital, or hybrid)? Are the complexity and associated costs worth the benefits vs. an approach focused on protecting all data and following the data minimization principle? How would contextually based approaches work in a situation where both instituted and BYOD devices are used? Will existing laws (e.g., FERPA) be expanded or will new laws be developed to address these emerging challenges?1 


Institutions should keep an eye on this space and have their privacy office, CISO, XR and classroom teams collaborate to monitor developments and consider conducting pilots as needed. This is an area of potential research for faculty.

The Need to Address Future Technologies That Will Complement the XR Ecosystem

The XR ecosystem may evolve through peripheral technologies such as neural/brain-computer interface (e.g., Neurosity, NextMind, OpenBCI work designed for VR/AR headsets) or haptic gloves.

While the use of XR + BCI in an instructional context is likely to be initially limited to research investigation and small experimentation over the next few years, institutions should still assess the evolution of the technology as part of an annual review of their XR instructional activities and pilots. It is worth noting that each institution's Institutional Review Board (IRB) might provide information on what kind of investigative activities might take place.

The use of haptic-based devices, such as gloves that provide haptic feedback, is more likely to gain rapid adoption within the next few years, depending on technological progress and affordability of devices. Institutions are bound to adopt these devices to provide an enhanced learning experience. While medical instruction, particularly as it relates to surgery training or specific procedures, will be among the first uses, institutions should not underestimate the potential for adoption in science/engineering domains with a strong "wet instructional lab" component. This technology might also be used within social sciences, particularly where haptic feedback-based interactions could be used within the context of developing empathy. The potential risks from haptic feedback-based interaction are unclear.


The use of haptic feedback-based interactions should be initially restricted to objects/NPCs/non-avatar characters. This will initially limit the risk of inappropriate virtual interaction involving haptic feedback between students, or between student and instructor.


  1. In 2020, the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation (ITIF) started to investigate a similar set of questions in the context of public spaces: Ellysse Dick, How to Address Privacy Questions Raised by the Expansion of Augmented Reality in Public Spaces (December 14, 2020).