Virtual Reality: A potential solution to the problems of offline education

Ava Lee
CARRE4
Published in
6 min readNov 12, 2020

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In the midst of a pandemic, society has turned to the internet as a source of connection and socialization, including millions of students around the world. Consequently, a fully hands on learning experience may become a luxury of the past. Additionally, many students have expressed the difficulties of connection in online school, so I couldn’t help but wonder, what would education look like if virtual reality had advanced to such a point where it could emulate social environments?

To get an understanding of the applications of VR, let’s get into a bit of the behind-the-scenes of how it works.

HOW VR WORKS

Photo by stephan sorkin on Unsplash

Virtual reality is a technology that creates immersive experiences through computer-generated simulations, allowing a person to interact with a virtual three-dimensional environment as if they are actually there. This is achieved through devices that send and receive sensory information, such as headsets and hand-held devices.

Replicating Vision

Uploaded by MDN Web Docs

In order to simulate a user’s vision, each VR headset will either have one or two (one for each eye) LCD screens, along with autofocus lenses placed between the user’s eyes and the pixels. Two 2d images will then be displayed and angled like in the diagram above on the right hand side; the object will be projected in two slightly different areas to emulate how our eyes view the world regularly, subsequently creating a 3d stereoscopic image.

Further immersion can be achieved through a large field of view (how wide the image extends), and a minimum frame rate of 60 frames per second. This is the rate of the image processing per second, and Oculus has achieved 90 fps, while Playstation VR is capable of 120 fps.

Other senses — Sound and Touch

Besides vision, VR can also address other senses such as sound and touch to increase the user’s belief and assurance of their virtual environment. In life, we understand our surroundings based on the perception that our five senses tells us. Because VR can tackle not only sight, but sound and touch as well, it can change our sense of space and trick our minds into believing it is a reality.

Regarding touch and sound, many VR headsets typically have sound systems that utilize sound effects that are synced with the visual, and work alongside two hand-held devices that allow the user to interact with their environment, such as picking up an object or throwing something across the room. There are even haptic gloves that allow users to feel the shape, texture and motion of virtual objects. From the company Haptx, the gloves they have developed have up to 4 lbs of resistive force feedback per finger, 130 points of feedback on the skin up to 2mm and integrated motion capture.

The resistive force of the haptic gloves from Haptx

The sensory tech coming together — The Void

This is my siblings and I at The Void! (We were shocked we could see our hands)

Last year, I went to The Void, where participants go through themed VR experiences. Each person is provided with a headset and backpack with full-torso haptics and hand tracking. The players walk through rooms where scenarios/game situations arise that the participants act upon. Something that The Void nailed was the attention to detail to the other senses besides sight, with the amazing sound system in the headset and the backpack that allowed the user to feel as well (in the Star Wars experience, you can feel blaster shots from Stormtroopers). Players were able to clearly hear each other through microphones integrated in the headsets.

So.. what would this look like in education?

A problem that has arisen with online schooling is the lack of authentic human interaction. On Zoom, you see everyone on one screen, and whoever is talking gets the full spotlight.

Photo by Charles Deluvio on Unsplash

Creating a virtual class environment

Uploaded by Frontiers in Psychology

To combat this issue, a possible solution could be a VR tech that connects students and teachers in a typical classroom environment. What I was imagining was a virtual room set up similarly to a classroom, where you can see your classmates (avatar style), and “sit” by them by moving around using the hand-held devices that pair with the headset.

There are already VR connection platforms out there where you can move around in a set space by using the hand-held devices, and talk with other users, however, the sound system acts the exact same as Zoom would; equal level of sound from each person. To solve this issue, an algorithm could possibly be implemented that would account for the distance of people within the virtual environment to determine sound levels, similarly to a real social environment. Utilizing the microphone and sound system in the headset (similarly to how The Void did this), would ultimately heighten the effectiveness of collaborative work in order to properly interact with others virtually.

Another reason why VR would be a great learning tool is that Google already dominates a large portion of the VR market, so they would be able to integrate their education platforms (Google classroom, docs, drive, etc.) into the VR, allowing teachers to present their lessons and assign work with ease.

Exploring what you couldn’t in a regular class

Uploaded by MedTech Boston

Through interacting in a virtual environment, students can also get the opportunity to explore new places, dissect 3d diagrams and more! Imagine being in a geography class, and instead of having to zoom in on a location on google maps, you could actually, physically (not really but you know what I mean!) be there. The same goes for biology class — instead of looking at photos of a heart, you could actually be able to see the different components, expanding your view with just a touch. Google also already offers the Arts and Culture app which features over 2 thousand museums around the world that students can explore in virtual reality.

Problems with VR and education

This would achieve a much more interactive environment while learning, however, there are still many gaps that need to be addressed. The main problem would be that every single student and teacher would need a headset for this to work, and they are definitely not cheap (the Oculus Quest 2 goes for $459 CAD currently with 64GB). Additionally, VR learning would mean that everything in the lesson would have to transition to virtual, and therefore no students would be able to take handwritten notes, work on posters, etc.

Overall, VR is an advancing technology that is constantly improving to better simulate virtual surroundings. Especially during times of Covid, VR provides an amazing opportunity to create virtual connection, specifically in education! Although there are still problems with the application that needs addressing, such as that it cannot quite replace natural human interaction, virtual reality holds the potential to advance what we know of virtual learning and disrupt education.

Ava Lee is a high school student in Vancouver, BC interested in the advancing technologies of the modern world, and specifically virtual reality! Connect with her on LinkedIn and subscribe to her newsletter here.

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Ava Lee
CARRE4
Writer for

I'm Ava, a 15-year-old student and innovator The Knowledge Society in Vancouver, BC!