Is education the future of VR or is VR the future of education? More than any other sector, education benefits from the wonders of virtual reality technology – whether it is virtual field trips, exploration of STEM projects or improving distance learning. Here we explore the potential wonders of VR in education through some exciting case studies.
The Egypt example
There are students in Cambridge, Mass and some are in a classroom in East China. Both groups of anthropology students are staring at the same ancient scrawl of writing along the top of the tomb at the Giza Plateau. Although none of these people are in Northern Africa, they are all enjoying the same experience.
How is this shared international experience possible?
Seattle company Doghead Simulations have created virtual reality software that helped those studying at Harvard and those at Zhejiang University to appreciate the same historical marks together. They were aware of each other as avatars projected through Oculus Go Vr headsets in the fully equipped VR classroom. The rumii software acted as a bridge between the campuses, allowing them to explore history together.
All it took was for the students to put on the goggles and for the professors to launch the app. With the power of live HD streaming and screen sharing, students across the world could learn together.
The co-founder of Doghead had an aha moment of his own when he moved to Brazil. Chance Glasco is also behind the gaming megastar Infinity Ward that dominated so long. He was burned out by the pace of the gaming sector and moved company. It was in the new role that he first experienced Oculus Rift technology, as he found it a more reliable medium for online meetings than traditional video conferencing software.
Mat Chacon, the professor who inspired the Chinese and American collaboration, began to realise that VR had the potential to be a significant classroom tool. He was aware of the work of educator Edgar Dale, who constructed a theory called Cone of Experience. This theory explores the power of learning when it is done through direct experience rather than more passive learning strategies such as reading or listening to a lecture.
A study by Penn State University has formalised the hunch that Chacon felt about VR and real-life experience. It was found that those learning via virtual reality did so twice as fast as more traditional pedagogical methods or computer programs. Even computer programs delivered via the internet can be too passive, whereas the VR experience allows for classroom-based hands-on experiences.
Improving online learning
Although useful in the physical classroom, VR technology is even more powerful in stimulating online learning. The dropout rates from online courses can be high. However, a project run with Full Sail University, which deployed rumii in online coursework for those studying Game studies, were amazed by the results. They are so pleased by the results that they plan to extend the experience to other courses.
The co-founder of Doghead claims that in the future he strongly believes VR will relace all online classes. He sees it as a means of creating more powerful memories, as the student is immersed in the learning. Online learning can be quite boring in comparison, as you are left to pour information into your brain in the hope it will stick. He describes it as a “pretty flat experience” in comparison to the multi-dimensional VR experience.
The avatars in the virtual environment also inspire confidence in online learning. There is semi-anonymity offered by the avatars, which encourages the learner to take risks they might not take in traditional learning environments. The Proteus Effect is the phenomena that change the personality of the user to match the character of the avatar. In the rumii app, such changes in personality will act positively to encouraging a braver approach to learning. Successful education often takes a willingness to fail, which becomes easier when you are taking on the role of the avatar.
A positive case study of this Proteus Effect in the rumii app was demonstrated when individuals who were victims of human trafficking were linked with social workers via VR. They felt safer talking this way and were much more willing to open up. People cannot reach behind the mask and make judgements of the person, so they feel more confident to talk.
There is also the potential to improve the experience of the online tutor. Pairing a student and a tutor with VR makes the relationship more powerful, more quickly. UniVRsity offers Oculus headsets to all students throughout their enrolment. Although the company specialises in computer science, making this choice common sense, it also delivers chemistry and biology through the VR experience. In September they aim to deliver full classes through the VR medium.
The opportunities for VR in the education sector
There are more than 900 developers looking to maximise virtual reality, as well as augmented reality and mixed reality mediums. Of these 900, one third recognise that education offers the greatest potential. Although gaming obviously rates higher in the minds of developers, education is a close second. There are many training products being released that are meant for learning as opposed to entertainment.
Geography and Science
Discovery Education is an example of this focus. They are developing virtual field trips. Building accurate environments is a massive undertaking. However, once complete, these apps can be widely distributed. Discovery Education has already reached millions of students with virtual field trips to aerospace centers such as Johnson Space Center, as well as an inside look at the science of opioid addiction.
Google Expeditions is also working on VR field trips. The app will offer a thousand or more educational experiences – meaning it has become the leading distributor of educational VR field trips.
Such an opportunity to take tens of thousands of young people on an immersive tour of difficult to reach locations is significant. The promise of this pedagogical approach is unquestioned. Stanford University recently published a study that determined that those learning through VR trips had a deeper learning experience than those who studied the places in more traditional ways.
VR also offers hope for those studying the STEM subjects. The headset can deliver students to the middle of the best-equipped labs in the world. The state-of-the-art hands-on learning can be far too expensive for most education institutions. However, the development of a VR lab makes this opportunity more universally available. The lab can be accessed on Daydreams, using a headset built by Labster. The students can culture bacteria, track cellular respiration and conduct ultrasounds on expectant mothers.
Lifeliqe’s have also developed hundreds of models for chemistry, biology, physics and other science curricula, creating interactive 3D realities for students. The company has partnered with HTC Vive. The work they are doing is amazing. They can realise a virtual world where students can open up, rotate and zoom in on 3D organ models.
Getting up close to a painting in an art gallery, to see it in three-dimensions, is far more powerful than seeing it in a book. A VR user has the ability to zoom in on small details and look in detail at the technique with a brush. If you want to study Frankenthaler, his Blue-Fall painting house in the Milwaukee Art Museum, there is no need to travel to Wisconsin. You can study it from your classroom in as much detail as required.
A sample of Turner prize winners can also be viewed in VR. Further, The Kremer Museum has arrange 74 paintings of Flemish and Dutch masters in a virtual gallery. An experience that would normally require a plane trip and a few weeks can be viewed from the US and for as long as is needed to become familiar with the brilliance of these artists.
The world of virtual reality has an ever-increasing presence in the world of education. Although challenges of access to the tech continue, there are many forward-thinking institutions finding the dollars to invest. Funds are limited, especially when looking at the K-12 sector. However, the hope is that technology will advance enough to be affordable or so valuable that the investment just makes sense.