Integrating Virtual Reality into education at the University of Melbourne

The seed for a completely new learning experience has been planted at the University of Melbourne!

In today’s blog post I would like to take some time to highlight the integration of a new type of learning experience at the University of Melbourne through utilising Virtual reality (VR).


Person participating in an immersive VR experience with sensor gloves. Photo by Yeppar-Augment Reality Company via Flickr

What is VR?

It is likely you already know a little about Virtual or augmented reality software due to its constant and vast coverage in technology news.

However, it is generally viewed through by its ability to revolutionise the gaming industry through creating a unique experience and sensation of immersion.

Well let me tell you now, the outreach and implications of this technology far exceed throwing some virtual pokeballs around will while you sip beers on a sunny Saturday afternoon.

There is a plethora of industries that would benefit through incorporating VR into their framework of operation.
This includes but is not limited to:

  • Mental health
  • Job training
  • Attractions and experiences
  • Teaching paraplegics to walk again
  • Tourism
  • Teaching surgeons
  • Theatre
  • Military and defence
  • Watching sport
  • Museum exhibitions
  • Real estate
  • Watching films
  • Manufacturing
  • Courtrooms
  • Advertising
  • Retail
  • Art
  • STEM
  • General education- will be discussed for the continuation of this post.

VR, Teaching, and the University of Melbourne

The rest of this post will discuss the development of the Virtual realist learning studio (VRLS) at the university of Melbourne.

Specifically, what led to its integration, how it’s being implemented, some examples, as well as some concerns and potential future developments.

Image of South lawn at the University of Melbourne. Photo by gus_sanvido via Flickr

The face behind this virtual reality

Dr Charles Sevigny, a senior lecturer in the department of Physiology at the university of Melbourne was recently the recipient of the prestigious David White Award for Teaching excellence.

This was awarded for his pioneering ability to integrate face-face and adaptive based learning into the university experience using virtual reality.

This began 5 years ago with an adaptive learning software called “smart sparrow”.

Smart sparrow is a 3D interactive software that uses in house animations to provide feedback, revision and assessment for Charles students to both enhance their learning experience and outcomes.

It became apparent that these 3D models developed for smart sparrow could have a much greater impact if viewed through a VR headset.

This led to the opening of Melbourne University’s first Virtual reality studio (VRLS) during May this year.

The facility comprises 16 student facing room scale VR stations bound to a content development station.

Although this doesn’t sound like much, with a student allowed a 20 minute experience each, the department can run between 300-350 students through the modules a day.

The drastic success of the studio has resulted in a wealth of other faculties and departments at the university now getting on board with discipline specific programs.

Potential uses

The challenge is determining what niche this technology fills.

Some avenues include:

  • VR field trips
  • Language skills
  • Skills training
  • Philosophical theory
  • Distance learning
  • Improved collaborations
  • Game based learning
  • Virtual campus visits

Charles and his team are currently creating a fully life anatomical 3D model of the heart that could be utilised by both undergrad and postgraduate students to enhance their anatomical and functional understanding of the organ.

This could revolutionise the medical student experience.

Most medical students do not receive adequate exposure to organs during training to form accurate 3D spatial maps before practice.

This is because the anatomy of an organ is extremely  variable and most spatial maps are formed through 2D images from textbooks that do not do the image justice.

This means their spatial maps of the body are non-optimal once finishing medical school.

VR and programs like Charles virtual heart is providing the first layers of cement for this type of spatial memory foundation.

Essentially this platform will let you fly inside the 3D muscles of the heart wall and examine its intricate  properties, full magic school bus style!

Image of Magic school bus to highlight the potential of VR. Photo by gus_sanvido via Flickr


A major limitation of integrating VR into universities or classrooms is the factor of cost. In a class room environment, it wouldn’t be very functional for one head set to be shared by 30 or so children.

However, as technology and supportive research improves, the cost factor will dissipate.

Additionally, VR can be operated with mobile phone apps and cardboard head set so the cost is minimal in contrast to the benefits it would provide for the students.

It would be ridiculous to dismiss the benefits of this technology by spending too much time with the fears that shadow it.

Student using a cardboard phone app accessory for a cost effective VR experience. Photo by Emporia State University via Flickr

The Future

There are currently a wealth of accessories in development that could make the experience even more immersive and integrated. Engineers are currently working on various smart lenses, holograms, controllers, and wired gloves.

The future of VR looks very exciting and promising!

Not only for education but for many aspects of life!
So stay tuned!!!!

If you are interested in reading more feel free to review :

The unlimited possibilities of VR:

Haptic technology :

Doctors broad cast first surgery in VR :

3 Responses to “Integrating Virtual Reality into education at the University of Melbourne”

  1. David Setyanugraha says:

    I can’t wait for the usage Virtual Reality in our education system. It is the future!
    Thanks for this exciting blog post.

  2. Andrew Butler says:

    Hi Gary,

    The possibilities are innumerous , it really is exciting, the only limitation is our own creativity ! 🙂

    You’re absolutely correct, i think i got a little enthusiastic with those dot points . Thank you for the feedback. I will make sure to implement it within my next post.

  3. Gary Yang says:

    I loved the magic school bus. The idea of VR being used in educational fields is very exciting to me. Imagine walking through restored ancient cities, or through blood vessels!

    I thought the lists were a too long though, you don’t need that many bullet points. Lists aren’t super interesting to read