Whether you’re a student or an educator, VR (Virtual Reality) is likely to be a part of your future. With VR or MR (Mixed Reality, a combination of virtual and augmented reality) you can give students realistic, hands-on experience and knowledge, far beyond what they can grasp from a textbook, or even a video. Brett Gould, Assistant Superintendent of Curriculum and Instruction at Lockport High School in Illinois believes MR allows students to experience and interact with educational content in a realistic learning environment, bringing their education “out of the book and into real life.” As with any interactive, experiential learning tactic, VR produces a higher level of student engagement and retention.
What Is VR?
VR uses sophisticated programming and graphics to create virtual worlds, and make the experience interactive. It engages your senses – vision, sound, touch, motion, and in some cases, even smell – to make the experience feel real. The more immersive the VR device, the more realistic the experience. The user wears ocular and audio interfaces that communicate with the computer-generated VR environment, sending dimensional signals to the brain.
Students using VR can visit far-away countries – perhaps to see the Pyramids, or the London Museum of Natural History. They can travel inside a body, or into space. They can perform tasks that might otherwise be too expensive or too dangerous to conduct in a standard school environment.
VR Learning Experiences
As we discussed in one of our Engineering Week blogs, VR is already making a splash on campus at the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul, Minnesota. Here are other examples of ways in which to use VR in your classroom:
The Body VR is a free VR experience that takes students inside the human body. In this terrific STEM lesson, students can travel through the bloodstream and discover how blood cells work to spread oxygen, or they can enter a living cell and learn how the organelles work together to fight deadly viruses.
Another VR app for biology and anatomy classes is the Human Anatomy Atlas by Visible Body. Through 3D visualization, students can study more than 4,600 anatomical structures, including all major organs and systems of the male and female bodies.
Automotive Shop Class is mixed reality technology from zSpace. It gives students hands-on, practical experience in car repair, prior to training on real automobiles. Benefits of this technology include:
- Virtually eliminates risk of injury
- Students accomplish more, in much less space
- Fewer actual cars and other physical materials required
- Students get unlimited practice
Also from zSpace, Newton’s Park is a physics playground in which students can deepen understanding of Newtonian mechanics. Student activities include building simulations, changing gravity, stopping and reversing time, etc.
See other STEM VR apps from zSpace here.
With the VR platform called Peer, students can more easily learn complex physical science concepts like gravity, molecular bonds, and force. In one lesson, for example, students study the aerodynamics of a windmill through their VR headset and then apply their newfound knowledge to build a windmill of their own.
Want to give your students an awesome field trip? Google’s Pioneer Expeditions lets teachers choose from a library of 100+ virtual trips, from the Great Wall of China to Mars. A literature teacher in Chicago “took” her students to Verona to see the setting for Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, and a teacher in the Bronx to “brought” her Ancient Civilizations class to the ancient Mayan ruins at Chichen Itza.
The Boulevard website shows us technologies such as WoofbertVR, which are revolutionizing the way students can experience art and culture. Exploring an art gallery using WoffbertVR’s app is nearly identical to being there. The student can follow any path they choose, zoom in on paintings they’re interested in, and listen to audio segments on exhibits.
Schell Games is a game development company that has produced games such as Water Bears VR, which helps promotes students’ spatial recognition and understanding of systems.
Choose Your College
When it’s time for high school students to start their college search, VR can once again prove useful. It’s hard to know if a particular college is right for you until to see it in person. However, you may not have the time or the money to travel to all the colleges you’re interested in.
Solution? Companies like Campus Tours and YouVisit are now offering 360-degree virtual reality tours for hundreds of campuses, from Georgia Tech to the University of Minnesota. You don’t need a headset for this tool – you can stroll around the campus on your PC, tablet or other device. Experiences available include exploring Geisel Library at the University of California, San Diego, or an electrical engineering lab at Princeton.
VR Enhances Communication and Collaboration
You may think of VR as a solitary, isolating kind of experience, but, as an article in TechCrunch tells us, it definitely doesn’t have to be. Many VR educational technologies let students and teachers collaborate and speak with one another while in the VR platform. Some include tools such as a collaborative, interactive whiteboard.
In this way, VR becomes a computerized “space” for creative problem-solving. In addition, it accommodates both types of students: those who learn best by hearing, and those who learn best by seeing.
Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg said VR “is really a new communication platform. By feeling truly present, you can share unbounded spaces and experiences with the people in your life.”
Since VR feels so real, it has also shown to enhance empathy. Educational opportunities include programs such as One World, Many Stories, which use VR to build connections between classrooms in the U.S. and the Middle East. Using VR, students are able to immerse themselves in each other’s lives, gaining a broader understanding of different cultures. In another example, students in Los Angeles experienced the impact of an explosion during wartime. These programs successfully enhanced students’ global awareness and ability for critical thinking.
The Future of VR in Education
A January 2016 report by Goldman Sachs estimated that VR/MR technology could reach 15 million students by 2025. The report includes interesting numbers such as 48: the number of hours it took to sell out every $99 Samsung Gear VR available on Amazon.com and BestBuy.com.
An article on Future Pi predicts what’s next for VR:
- People will use their arm/hand motion to control VR experiences
- VR equipment will also track eye movement
- VR hardware innovation, including 3D object tracking tools
- Artificial intelligence (AI) will chat with you on VR
- Untethered devices will be available to the consumer market
Other Envision Blogs about VR
For more on this subject:
"Hot Tech" for Engineers Week
We explore how VR works, its use in a wide variety of fields, and its potential as a fascinating career for any 3D gamers who are among our next generation of engineers!
The Virtual Reality Education
Examines the progress technologists have brought to VR education, and some of its implications.