Can Virtual Reality be a different approach to teaching in India?
It took a Virtual Reality (VR) headset to make me feel like the world was within my reach. With VR, the whole world moves with you, literally. My first VR experience was similar except that I didn’t feel like a super hero, but a fly. While I was flying with clouds, I could see the horizon. While I was walking on the ground, I could see the world next to me. I felt so tiny, yet so powerful, the world was right there, if I moved, it moved with me.
VR is already popular in some foreign countries, but comes under a ‘new thing’ in India. VR can be closely related to science fiction movies like Matrix and Avatar; where time travel and teleportation looks casual. One can imagine being confined in the computer simulated reality with the help of a headset. This is the age of technology, we have moved from Internet Explorer, to Google Chrome/ Mozilla Firefox, from corded telephones to smart phones, and from two dimensional array to 360 degrees. Scientists are working on VR for the past two decades, and it was launched to the world in 2010. Though we have experienced VR through games, it is also used in the entertainment field, education industry etc.
Virtual Reality is also known as immersive multimedia because of its power to hold attention. This technology is making a lot of noise because while experiencing VR, the headset enfolds the vision, hence 100% attention. The senses left uncovered is smell and touch; but experts are working on it. With a 360 degree view, it has the power to replicate an environment real, or hypothetical. Some countries like the USA or UK are considering VR as a different approach to teaching.
VR can not only increase the attention span of students, but also help in a better learning process. We may not remember what happened in the Battle of Plassey, or the events of World War I, but we do remember movie plots. Partly because movies are supported with audio as well as video, and partly because we did not pay attention in class.
In India, it is still an emerging technology. When it comes to the quality of headsets available in India, it is not at par with the international standards. Where people play games with the headset regularly, in India one cannot use the VR headset for long duration.
Agam Garg, Co-founder, Meraki, said, “Not even 1% of the population is aware of VR, but spreading the word is not our biggest challenge. It is the distribution channel, how we can distribute the product and content to appropriate audience in India.”
The good part about VR is that even the file size for 360 degree content won’t increase the burden on storage devices, and it is advised to use high definition resolution. “The space consumed depends on the quality and compression of the video. For instance, a one minute video takes around 200 MB,” added Garg.
There are hardly any companies creating 360 degree content in India. Parth Choksi, Co-Founder, Meraki, added, “VR can definitely help in the field of education. One of our past projects involved a non-governmental organisation working at the grass root level in Orissa. We recorded their lectures, student activities and noticed that students are active learners. I think VR’s immersive learning has the potential to enhance learning. If we use it in classroom, it can revolutionize the whole idea of teaching. ”
VR can be used to recreate an environment. But some of its restrictions might fail to make VR successful in the field of education in India. The first constraint is the high overhead cost, which includes the gadgets and gear required to use VR. Secondly, proper training to those using VR, and implementing the technology in schools. Another constraint is that there are some places in India where mobile networks have not reached, and VR requires a good bandwidth / internet connection. “Lastly, another concern with this technology, as we have noticed, is that if one tries to use the VR headset for more than six-seven minutes, it can cause headaches,” said Prof Subhasis Chaudhari from the Electrical Engineering Department at the Indian Institute of Technology Bombay (IIT-B).
Prof Chaudhari added, “In real life, we see the world in three dimension, and our eyes don’t feel the strain. However, while working on VR in the lab, we can’t wear the headset for long as it strains the eyes. Since VR is hard on the eyes, it distracts from creating a natural effect.” In classrooms, VR is still in its infancy. Currently, VR is not a collective experience, but is individual-centric. Another constraint in using VR in classroom teaching is that it lacks the sense of touch. For example, performing a dissection in a Biology class; how will a student know how much pressure should be applied?
Prof Manivannan from the Applied Mechanics department at IIT Madras has been working on VR for the last 15 years, since his days at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) back in the early 2000s. He said, “I am working on the hardware required for Haptic VR, that is, looking into the touch aspect of VR. Ideally, when people will shake hands through VR, it will feel as if the person is physically present in front of you.”
Students in India’s most prestigious engineering colleges have started working on Haptic VR. Prof Manivannan continued, “VR is the recent buzzword for engineering students. There is a lot of enthusiasm amongst students with regards to VR, and it looks promising to them as big companies like Google and Facebook are moving towards to VR as well.”
VR is a very much talked about within the internet community. People are interested to know how we can use VR to the best of its capabilities. Since VR is not widely known in the Indian circles, it will be an amazing experience to know how it will change our lives in the near future.
If you don’t know what this buzz is all about, it’s because you haven’t tried VR. For me, it was just a trending topic on the internet, until I watched a 360 degree video on a headset. I realised the infinite opportunities that VR could open for us, and the way we look at the world might just change.