Virtual Reality and immersion in education

Posted: June 16, 2014 at 10:23 am

By Ben Loveridge (Learning Environments)

“Tell me and I’ll forget; show me and I may remember; involve me and I’ll understand.” – Chinese Proverb

Virtual reality (VR) and immersive technology hit the big time news in March 2014 when Facebook acquired Oculus VR, makers of the Oculus Rift headset for a few billion dollars. When Mark Zuckerberg excitedly explained the potential of this ‘new communication platform’, he mentioned classroom learning in the same breath as immersive gaming, sporting events and remote doctor visits.

This 30 second excerpt from a Steam Dev Days presentation by Oculus founder @PalmerLuckey outlines his thoughts on using VR as a communication device and pre-empts the Facebook deal that was to emerge six weeks later.

Only time will tell what impact VR will have in an educational context but this email by Luckey talks of future plans and even potentially giving free Rifts to educational institutions.

The Oculus Rift Development Kit Two, due for release in August 2014, will have improved features such as positional tracking and a low persistence OLED display (960 x 1080) which will help increase the potential of what in VR speak is known as ‘presence’. This is generally defined as the sense of being someplace else while in virtual reality. The Oculus Rift is certainly not the only VR headset under development (Sony’s Project Morpheus has been well publicised), but none have yet to be released commercially. Luckey is quick to point out the importance of getting the experience right before launching due to the harm that bad VR has the in its potential to kill off VR.

Some of the early examples in the made-for-VR experience have been in the horror genre and architectural walkthroughs but since the Facebook partnership, Oculus have been on a major recruiting drive seeking to produce their own VR software experiences.

We’re already seeing a number of third-party devices being used to work within a VR framework:

Surgeon Simulator with Rift and Razer Hydra

The STEM system offers a wireless motion tracking platform for VR and using the soon to be available SDK kit, will allow developers the ability to customise their own VR experiences in the Unity or Unreal engines.

The Infinadeck, an omni-directional treadmill.

Over the next few years we should see more VR support for games such as Gone Home which focus on storyline and problem-solving activities while avoiding the standard first-person shooter experience.

The increased use of 360 degree cameras in narrative and non-fiction work to further allow for immersive-style ‘real world’ experiences.

Creating compelling experiences in the VR will be key to its long-term success and it’s important for educators and developers to now design engaging and worthwhile experiences. What scenarios can you think of that are best suited to utilise VR in education?



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