This week I am excited to explore the world of virtual reality (VR) and how it relates to the online and blended educational learning. I had no idea that there were three different options of interactive technology! According to Wikipedia, VR is an ‘interactive computer-generated experience taking place within a simulated environment’ or, as stated in an article by ‘The Medical Futurist’, VR shuts out everything else completely to create an entire simulation.
A second option, augmented reality (AR), is similar to VR in that the virtual information is superimposed over a live camera feed into a headset, so the user sees a virtual 3D object projected into a real environment.
There is a third option called, mixed reality (MR). MR is more similar to AR because it projects the content onto the real environment, however unlike AR, it actually interacts with the world. For example, while AR can soon project the price of an apartment on the building in front of you, MR first senses what is around and then projects the requested data according to your environment.
I’m going to concentrate on discussing VR applications to education because that is what is most widely available at this point. In Virtual Reality or VR, visual and auditory feedback is combined into an immersive environment so that the user is able to ‘look around an artificial world, move around in it and interact with virtual features or items’. A student can access VR technology using a special headset which may or may not have hand controls. There are even controllers with sensitive ‘haptic systems’ which allow the user to ‘feel’ solid objects through transmission of vibrations and other sensations.
The use of VR in education seems like the next step in technological trends of ‘immersive instruction’ and has application across all levels of education from the elementary student to post-secondary adult learners. In an article written by Nick Babich titled, How Virtual Reality Will Change How We Learn and How We Teach, two current problems in traditional approaches to education are identified: first that education is based on the same old format of fact retention, and second that many people have problems comprehending information. He goes on to state that educators have to teach in a way that ensures that students learn, and that VR may hold the answer.
VR can function to boost student learning and especially engagement because it transforms the methods in which educational content is delivered. Babich states, “VR works on the premise of creating a virtual world – real or imagined – and allows users to interact with it. Being immersed in what you’re learning motivates you to fully understand it. It’ll require less cognitive load to process the information.”
In VR students are able to have new experiences, explore topics and see how things are put together; they are actually able to learn about a subject by living it! In VR the body fully believes it’s in a new place, so this further engages the mind in completely new ways.
Students can learn by doing, which is a well-known ‘authentic’ way of learning new information. VR can boost creativity through programs such as Tilt brush which is a 3D painting VR app developed by Google. For visual learners, education is enhanced by actually seeing the topics that students are learning about, or by having the ability to visualize complex functions or mechanisms.
In an article titled, K-12 Teachers use Virtual and Augmented Reality Platforms to Teach Coding, the author, Eli Zimmerman identifies ways in which immersive AR and VR educational applications can build computer skills. Zimmerman states, “Coding skills are in high demand and will soon become a necessary skill for nearly all industries”.
In a group learning environment, VR facilitates social interactions by allowing the user to use am avatar and mapped facial expressions so people can discuss and learn from each other. Educators and students can even be in the ‘same room’ so interactions can be lifelike.
Babich lists 5 properties that a good VR educational experience should have:
- Immersive – Users should feel they are part of the experience.
- Easy to use – Shouldn’t require steep learning curve.
- Meaningful – VR experience tells a story, and stories inspire and elicit action, therefore is a superior way to deliver learning.
- Adaptable – VR experiences should allow users to explore at their own pace.
- Measureable – Every educational tool should contain some means to measure impact.
One main drawback of VR technology is definitely the cost factor. The VR Occulus Rift and Touch System costs about $450 CAD, and the MR Microsoft Hololens runs a staggering $4000 CAD! Cheaper VR headsets, such as the cardboard ones depicted in the top picture are widely available and even DIY, however the VR experience is not interactive. Another drawback that is not talked about much is the resultant ‘motion sickness‘ during use. According to one website, 25-40% of VR users experiences this. This is due to the body thinking it’s moving when it’s actually stationary (in a chair). This will improve as VR technology is moving to wireless in the near future. One other downside is that there are not many VR programs available yet, but I’m sure this will change quickly as this field is exploding right now.
I am very happy to share my personal and professional story of creating an educational online ‘dressing change’ nursing skill program with a local media company. It has taken my two colleagues and I about 3 years of working with the media designers and programmers to create this game which will be a program offered ‘free for use’ online.
I am ecstatic to say our program is now being converted into a VR experience! My colleagues and I even got to trial our game in VR last week and are thrilled with the results so far! It should be available for use by nursing students in the very near future. One concern that I have is that it will only be compatible with the Occulus rift VR headset, which is quite far out of the price range of most adult students. We are hoping to secure funding so we can obtain a few Occulus Rift headsets for our students’ use. There are a few other programs at Saskpolytech currently looking into creating VR educational experiences so it would make sense to have a few onsite. This is a truly fascinating educational technology that has endless benefits for in-class, blended, and online learning! I can’t wait to see what the future holds!