No doubt about it. Virtual reality isn’t just for gamers and gadget geeks anymore. In fact, as the technology gets better and cheaper, VR is the wave of the future when it comes to creating a truly memorable and effective learning experience – and for good reason.
Multiple Learning Attributes. To begin with, it empowers us to create any number of safely immersive virtual learning environments that feel and respond much as they would in real life, as students engage and explore, interact with and manipulate objects within these worlds. Imagine teleporting your students to re-enact historic battles; explore outer space; or travel the inner workings of the human body. What’s more, using sophisticated controls, they can actually “practice” complex procedures like cardiac surgery, or master difficult concepts, such as the molecular properties of brain cells.
Likewise, VR gives new meaning to the term “field trip,” by enabling students to virtually experience first-hand some of the world’s great museums, natural wonders and notable landmarks. You can also embed 360-degree objects within the virtual classroom to support course content, much as Drexel University Online is doing after assembling its one-of-a-kind VRtifacts+ repository. And you can use it to live-stream events, guest lectures and campus tours, in addition to hosting virtual community spaces where learners can meet and connect in a seemingly “real” environment.
Getting Started. While virtual reality requires special headsets or glasses, the selection is growing at price points that are highly affordable – under $30 for headsets and as low as $4 for decent glasses. What’s more, there are now a wealth of user-friendly, cost-effective and easily downloadable VR apps to help enhance the learning experience across many devices, without the expense and hassle of developing objects and environments from scratch.
Here are some that are rated among the “best” in three popular areas of study:
Human Anatomy. From basic biology to medical school classrooms, instructors struggle to teach the complexities of the human body. But thanks to VR, there are an increasing number of exciting digital options. For instance, the Anatomyou app, enables advanced students to take a non-invasive tour through the body to learn more about its various systems, while InMind facilitates a gamified journey through the human brain and The Body VR traverses the bloodstream.
History and The Arts. By harnessing the power of VR, history and arts instructors now have a wealth of options for conducting virtual field trips and hosting authentic experiences in every possible location from world-renowned museums to remote regions and famous battlefields. For example, EON Reality’s King Tut VR is an audio-narrated, 360-degree tour of the tomb of Egyptian Pharoah King Tutankhamun, which provides a unique opportunity to examine the intricate artifacts of the New Kingdom period in Egyptian history. Likewise, My Brother’s Keeper offers a chance to experience the Battle of Antietam through the eyes of estranged brothers fighting on opposite sides of the Civil War.
Boulevard uses VR to peruse some of the world’s great art collections through the eyes of a museum curator, and Tilt Brush moves students beyond traditional art media to turn any virtual space into a 3-D “masterpiece,” using a palette of dynamic brushes to create texture and volume.
Science. VR also serves as a real boon for teaching science at every level and within any discipline. Take MoleculE VR, for example, a proven tool for learning complex concepts in biology and medicinal chemistry, while Titans of Space hosts a guided and breathtakingly realistic tour of the solar system without ever leaving planet earth. Moreover, Look Ahead takes environmental science students on a 360-degree tour of San Francisco “underwater,” to see the potential impact of climate change and sea level rise on some of city’s iconic locations.
What’s Up Next. Of course, as mentioned earlier, VR traces its roots to the entertainment “gaming craze.” So, it comes as no surprise that educators are also riding this craze to use serious educational games as supplementary learning tools in their courses. And like virtual reality, there is a plethora of appropriate, free/low-cost and easily downloadable games already available in the marketplace.
In a future blog will take a look at how they can be used to supplement and support course content, as well as showcase a few of the more noteworthy options. In the meantime, we invite you to “imagine” the future of online education with us, by downloading the white paper featured on this website.