Virtual Reality (VR) has been used in different domains due to immense possibilities it offers. Its application in educational fields adds multiple dimensions across the various academic disciplines. Several studies reveal that virtual reality improves student test scores and knowledge retention. It is able to appeal to even the least responsive of users, therefore leave no student behind. It is expected that the VR, in times to come, will transform the school and colleges. In late 2016, Facebook founder, Mark Zuckerberg’s announcement to invest $ 10 million for the development of VR education applications, is one of the major steps towards a real revolution in the education field. Mike Wadhera, in his recent article, “The Information Age is over, Welcome to Experiential Age” eloquently put forward the point that, VR provides the necessary tools for sharing and learning from each other’s experiences.
Backgrounder on Virtual Reality
Virtual Reality, in simple term, is an artificial computer generated world, that can be experienced and interacted with. The term has come to refer to experiences where the user or player uses special equipment to immerse themselves and completely block out the real world. VR is usually delivered to the user through a head-mounted or hand-held controller. Such equipment connects people to the virtual world and allows them to control and navigate their actions in an environment meant to simulate the real world.
Virtual Reality is nothing new; in 1950s and earlier as well, there had numerous attempts to use the technology in film, television and in allied sector to experience the virtual world. Despite earlier significant promise and innovative but clunky devices, VR went into decline. It was only the academic research at various universities that kept the concept alive.
Essentially, for decades VR had dropped from the public’s attention. In early 90’s, there were attempts to commercialize it, but most devices of that era were either been too expensive or just did not work well enough to give a realistic and comfortable experience. However, in recent years, with the advent of smart phone together with Google Cardboard, it made it much more accessible to other people. This led to developments by other smart phone OEMs like HTC and Samsung to bring out HTC VIVE and Samsung Gear. Currently, there are more than 200 companies worldwide that are engaged in developing VR related products. Most large companies such as Facebook, Google, Apple, Amazon, Microsoft, Sony and Samsung have dedicated groups working on VR products of the future.
Virtual Reality and Augmented Reality in aid of education
Virtual Reality immerses the user by making them feel like they are experiencing the simulated reality firsthand, primarily by stimulating their vision and hearing. Augmented Reality, on the other hand, is a technology that layers computer-generated enhancements atop an existing reality in order to make it more meaningful through the ability to interact with it. Virtual Reality and Augmented Reality are inverse reflections of one in another with what each technology seeks to accomplish and deliver for the user. Virtual reality offers a digital recreation of a real life setting, while augmented reality delivers virtual elements as an overlay to the real world. Both technologies have their usefulness in the area of education and training.
Virtual Reality in Education
When it comes to new innovations and technology, the field of education often lags far behind. However, one cannot overlook the renaissance of VR, as it could be the next breakthrough in educational technology. It would certainly provide an opportunity to provide student with true experiential learning environment. With the VR, it is possible to make gamification of education and allow students to learn while having fun. Thus, they will definitely imbibe the knowledge and skills better this way through the immersive process.
Advantages of Virtual Reality in Education
Technically, it is already possible to recreate a classroom in virtual reality. It allows recreating any experience within a virtual environment. The development of a virtual school enables their learners to meet from anywhere and collaborate remotely and thereby creating a true global environment. The environment may even be less formal than a real classroom, and may therefore be more conducive to the development of the learners.
The benefits of this concept include the unlimited capacity of a virtual classroom, the ability to share numerous experiences in ‘real life’ kind of simulation, and facilitating access to school for learners living in remote communities. Similarly, it makes possible for students to choose the subjects of their interest, and to specialize in the areas where they excel.
Virtual Reality in education could replace textbooks with interactive educational experiences. For materials such as History, Geography, Social, physical science, this medium could prove to be much more suitable than printed books or even today’s audio-video materials.
Some students may be interested in disciplines that needs eye-hand coordination such as mechanics, medicine etc. Today, they must wait for many years before they can carry out the real time experiments necessary for professional application.
For instance, a student interested in mechanics can learn how to change engine parts in a virtual environment. This will allow him to develop his passion and skills sooner and more quickly.
Through VR education, students can develop dexterous skills at an early stage without exposing themselves or the subjects of their experiment to danger.
Areas of VR Application in Education
1. Application in the areas such as Geography, History and Geology. One can explore places all over the world without having to leave the classroom in reality. This could provide opportunity to learn Geography, different languages and develop empathy for various cultural nuances. For history learning, one can go back in time and create tableau of that era and experience life and society as it existed then. Similarly, one can go deep inside the earth and experience the rock formation, origin of volcano, emergence of diamond and other precious metals. This is power of virtual reality.
2. Application in areas of Ocean Sciences, Marine Biology, and Space Sciences: In virtual reality based classrooms, one can explore the depths of the ocean, experience and observe variety of marine life, and explore the vastness of space. In space, one can even experience future settlements on Mars or Moon and have a brush with alien stars and asteroids. The learning in these areas can be vastly enhanced through the VR based experience.
3. Application in Biology and Medical field: Using VR one can explore within the human body as well as other living organisms. One can travel within various arteries, visualize pumping of blood by the heart, DNA structure among various other experiences. Medical Students can conduct procedures in VR based operation theatre.
4. Application in area of Health, Safety and Environmental protection: Through VR world, one can step into communities in crisis, in scenarios such as floods, epidemics, earth-quakes, and other human tragedies and experience how aid can be given in such situations. This leads to empathetic action by current students in real world crisis.
5. Creating collaborative learning: VR permits students to share their world with others and thereby co-create better virtual reality content. This would lead to student generated content for future generations of learners.
6. Experience future careers first-hand: VR makes it possible to experience careers such as being a Doctor, an Engineer, a Lawyer, or other such careers by being one and observing life in various industries like medicine, engineering, entertainment and real estate. This enables students to make a well considered and experienced career choice.
A few roadblocks
The main drawback of VR in educational context is price and accessibility. Most of the Universities and schools might not want to dedicate/or afford a major share of their budget to emerging technologies.
Another disadvantage of VR is content, especially the applications that would run alongside the VR hardware. The freebies available in the public domain platform are not high quality or not made for educational purposes.
To conclude, one of the biggest applications of this technology is to promote curiosity and wonder among learners. Through Virtual Reality, one can transport oneself to another time and place. Though, Virtual Reality may never replace actual travel but it can certainly expose to multiple cultures and places where one may not have time and money to go to. The historical reenactment could be an amazing thing as for now, the time travel is only in the realms of fiction. As time goes by as we lose people with living memory of events, history becomes more and more abstract. In so far, the field of education is concerned, one of the biggest challenges of adopting VR apart from the current expensive hardware costs is figuring out how VR can be integrated into every subject area and curriculum. This is a challenge for us, the academicians to explore.
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References and sources:
May 9, 2016, article titled “The Information Ages is over; welcome to the Experience Age” by Mike Wadhera, posted at www.techcrunch.com
February 13th, 2015, article titled “5 reasons to use AR in Education” posted at www.augment.com
November 2, 2015, article titled “How to transform your classroom with Augmented Reality” by Patricia Brown posted at, www.edsurge.com
February 2017, article titled “10 Reasons to Use Virtual Reality in the Classroom” by Ashley McCann posted at, www.teachthought.com
June 16, 2017, article titled “Virtual reality and its educational possibilities” by Elliot Hu-Au, posted at www.virtualrealityforeducation.com
January 30, 2017, article titled “How virtual reality, augmented reality and mixed reality could be used in education” by Christina Mercer posted at, www.computerworlduk.com