Virtual Reality – Fad or Fabulous?


flickr photo shared by Steve Koukoulas under a Creative Commons ( BY-NC-ND ) license

Who didn’t spend hours as a child, gazing through their View-Master, clicking around the film cartridges which revealed 3d images of nature, super heroes and classic stories? The View-Master allowed us to escape into an imaginative world in a different way to books or television; by holding it up to our eyes, the whole world disappeared as our field of vision was completely taken up by these tiny slides.

The world has changed dramatically since my childhood, and technology now allows for an immersive experience light years beyond the simple View-Master of the past. Technology such as the Oculus Rift and the Samsung Gear VR are bringing Virtual Reality out of science fiction, and thanks to the incredibly cheap Google Cardboard Virtual Reality viewer, into the hands of everyday people. In some areas, virtual reality is seen as the natural next step to how we interact with media content, from gaming to movies and more.

I have written before on this blog about Augmented Reality, and explained the difference between Augmented Reality (AR) and Virtual Reality (VR). Augmented Reality has lots of potential for education, and free apps such as Aurasma and Daqri have enabled teachers to experiment with different ways to enhance learning using it.  However until the introduction of the Google Cardboard viewer, the chance to explore the potentials of VR in education has been extremely limited.

Before jumping into a discussion about whether VR is fad or actually fabulous for education, let’s investigate exactly what it is, and what the technology and tools entail. This video, gives a fantastic, simple explanation for those new to the idea of Virtual Reality. Click the image below to access it on the Time website.

how does vr work

Put simply, VR is the experience of a computer generated simulation or 3D image, made possible by the use of technology such as a helmet or viewer. The ability to ‘trick’ the mind into thinking that the individual is actually ‘there’ within the environment which is in fact ‘virtual’ is the amazing and fascinating aspect of VR, which removes it from other experiences of media. When viewing a VR App which features a rollercoaster ride, users may feel the same feelings of dizziness and displacement that they would when actually riding the real thing.

Of course, the more advanced the VR system, the more fully immersed within the environment the user becomes. Simple apps combined with a Google Cardboard Viewer provide enough immersion to make one feel a little ill, but the lack of audio stimulus and real interactivity limits just how ‘real’ the experience feels. This is a good thing for younger students – being able to pull the viewer away at any moment of discomfort is important. For older or more experienced users of VR, they may wish to trial technologies that provide a much fuller immersion; where sensory stimulation including the sense of touch (e.g. wind blowing through your hair as you fly) and audio (the rushing sound as you soar) as well as the ability to interact with the environment actually makes the computer disappear, as the brain becomes fully engaged with the virtual world. For a deeper explanation about how VR works, a great article that is easy to read is How Virtual Reality Works by

While it seems obvious that gaming will be where a large proportion of development will happen in the VR world, the ability to experience ‘being there’ from the safety of a classroom has obvious appeal for the educator. Having the ability to walk through historical sites, to experience times in history such as World War One or to investigate Outer Space are just some of the most immediate examples of how virtual reality might play a part in learning. The Google Expeditions Pioneer Program and Immersive VR Education sites are currently offering this experience to students – and one can only assume others will follow. For many schools, excursions, school trips and even hands on activities may be limited due to funding or safety concerns; using virtual reality, while not a complete replacement, may allow those students to experience what they would otherwise have never been able.

Research has shown that game-based learning environments, virtual worlds and simulations all result in varying levels of positive learning outcomes (Merchant, Goetz, Cifuentes, Keeney-Kennicutt, & Davis, 2014). However, this meta-analysis admits that the research available is limited in different ways. There is also not a great deal of literature available discussing the effectiveness of virtual reality based learning in the context of retention and being able to transfer the learning from the virtual to the real environment (Bossard, Kermarrec, Buche, & Tisseau, 2008). This is not surprising, given the cost of providing virtual reality experiences to this point. With the introduction of Google Cardboard, all of this is about to change.

These apps are all available on the Google Play store. There are also apps available for iPhones through iTunes.

These apps are all available on the Google Play store. There are also apps available for iPhones through iTunes.

Google Cardboard is a low tech, cardboard viewer, that holds users’ to smartphone, so that the screen of the device is viewed through the lenses. There are a growing number of free and paid apps that are being made available to be viewed through the viewer, ranging from the aforementioned rollercoaster (not for those who experience motion sickness!!), an African safari, several space adventures,and the original Google Cardboard app, which features different experiences including a simple animated story, a tour of Versailles, a 3D artefact that can be examined from all angles and the opportunity to fly over the Earth.

war of wordsOne of the apps that shows the way VR might potentially link to literature is the beautiful War of Words, which features a reading of Siegfried Sassoon’s  poem ‘The Kiss’. This app demonstrates a way VR might be used to engage students in poetry through the immersion in an atmospheric experience that conveys a tone that a simple reading may not provide. Enabling students to almost physically enter the world of the text opens up immense possibilities. A hybrid sitting between the book and the movie, books could include points during the story where the reader is encouraged to put down the physical book and pick up the virtual visor, to experience an adventure along with the characters. Combining the two technologies (book and VR) would enrich the experience, while providing new ways to encourage beginning readers to interpret the text.

Although this article in Mashable focuses less on reading and more on the storytelling experience, those who work with disengaged readers can easily make the links between experiencing storytelling of the calibre described here, and the desire to the engage with text that further extends the story.

cardboardTo support the exploration of Virtual Reality, ResourceLink has purchased a set of six I Am Cardboard Viewers, and will be offering them for loan along with our other Makerspace kits. Teachers will need to provide the phones loaded with appropriate apps, however with most students today owning their own mobile, this might just require some pre-planning. Primary schools wishing to explore might choose to host an afternoon where parents are invited to join in with the learning, bringing their mobile phone with them! Some apps work on iPod Touches, however phones provide the best experience, as generally they are more powerful.

In the kit, I have included two documents to assist users; one outlining tips for using a Cardboard viewer in the classroom, and one suggesting apps to get users started.

Virtual Reality is still in the early stages of adoption, particularly in education. Limitations in budgets, bandwidth and accessibility mean that it may take some time before VR is a commonplace part of learning – an observation supported by Pano Anthos, Founder and CEO, GatherEducation who states:

True virtual reality and augmented reality technologies will be slower to go mainstream, since the effort to put on glasses of any type means costs and changes in user behavior. When such technologies become seamless and unobtrusive accessories, they will move toward mainstream.
(drawn from the article Future Thoughts by Jonathan Blake Huer)

Despite this, teachers, librarians and administrators involved in education are challenged to play with and investigate new technologies. Becoming informed about,and exploring ‘horizon’ technologies such as VR, and observing developing trends in pedagogy helps educators respond more effectively in a changing learning environment, and with students who demand a changing lvr flipboardearning experience.

Intrigued and want to know more?

I have created a Pinterest Board which has a range of links to apps, articles and research, and if you wish to keep up to date, check out my Flipboard, to which I will be adding articles of interest. For Brisbane Catholic Education staff, the Google Cardboard kits will be available for loan through the Oliver catalogue; simply search the lists for Makerspaces, and you will find it, along with all of our other Makerspace kits and resources which you can book for use.

References

Bossard, C., Kermarrec, G., Buche, C., & Tisseau, J. (2008). Transfer of learning in virtual environments: a new challenge? Virtual Reality, 12, 151-161
Blake Huer, J. (2015, June 22). Future Thoughts. Retrieved 29 October 2015, from http://er.educause.edu/articles/2015/6/future-thoughts
Merchant, Z., Goetz, E. T., Cifuentes, L., Keeney-Kennicutt, W., & Davis, T. J. (2014). Effectiveness of virtual reality-based instruction on students’ learning outcomes in K-12 and higher education: A meta-analysis. Computers & Education, 70, 29–40. http://doi.org/10.1016/j.compedu.2013.07.033
Newspoll Market and Social Research. (2013). Like, post, share: Young Australians’ experience of social media. Prepared for Australian Communications and Media Authority. Retrieved from http://www.cybersmart.gov.au/About%20Cybersmart/Research/~/media/Cybersmart/About%20Cybersmart/Documents/Newspoll%20Quantitative%20Like%20Post%20Share%20%20final%20PDF.pdf

Creative Commons Images in this post used with thanks to:
Oculus Rift – Developer Version – Front” by Sebastian StabingerOwn work. Licensed under CC BY 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons.

Samsung Gear VR” by http://www.flickr.com/people/pestoverde/http://www.flickr.com/photos/pestoverde/15247458515. Licensed under CC BY 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons.

Assembled Google Cardboard VR mount” by othreeGoogle Cardboard. Licensed under CC BY 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons.

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