VR in education

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The PS4 VR headset provides the first cheap alternative to PC VR.

2016 is the year that VR went mainstream

Early in the year the Oculus Rift and the HTC Vive were released. Both cost a hefty amount (roughly NZ$1000-$2000), plus they require the addition of a high spec PC (Mac users are left out at this point). Then, at the start of October, Sony brought out the PlayStation VR. This costs around $650 and is a much easier entry point for those who already own a PS4. Indeed, there are over 40 million PS4s in circulation, so there is a large potential user base.

Why VR?

VR headsets allow users to become immersed in a virtual environment. True VR enables the user to interact with the environment that they are seeing. These environments are created by the computer running the simulation. Thus the experience for the user is very realistic. One potential problem with VR is that it can cause motion sickness if not implemented well.

There are also an ever growing number of 360 degree videos. Just type 360 video into YouTube and you will have a huge number of videos already available to view. These are created using either rigs that have a number of cameras attached to record each viewpoint. An example would be connecting 6 Go Pros in a rig such that each camera faces out as they would on a cube. This is very expensive and requires a lot of processing to stitch the different video sequences together. There is a video showing the process available here.

If you view the video below, you can change the viewpoint either by moving your device (if it has inbuilt accelerometers) or by using the arrow keys.

There are a number of (relatively) cheap cameras that can create 360 degree videos on the fly. The Ricoh Theta S enables quick and easy videos to be made. These can then be viewed using a smartphone with a VR headset (e.g. Google Cardboard or a plastic viewer- that’s because cardboard viewers are not comfortable) or just manipulated on a touch screen device. They can also be viewed on any of the full VR headsets, although the ”çheap” options lead to video at too low a resolution for these headsets. Nikon has just released a 360 camera called the Keymission 360. This may enable higher quality 360 video for playback on real VR systems.

How I see VR being used in future

At first glance VR could be looked at as being just a gimmick. Schools that need to spend money wisely could easily be put off purchasing VR equipment. However, there are a number of potential uses that VR equipment could be used for in education.

At the moment specialist software is thin on the ground. However there are some excellent examples already available (on the PC platform). The World of Comenius is such a program, that demonstrated the potential of VR in education. There are also interactive anatomy programs (e.g. Cyberanatomy) which provide a view of anatomy that would not be possible without VR.

But there are a huge number of ways of getting students to understand new concepts and ideas. Imagine being able to parachute out of a virtual plane and use a virtual data logger to check velocity and acceleration.

The use of 360 video should also not be overlooked. There are opportunities to create VR experiences that could show what it feels to be bullied or video a practical in progress- different stages of the practical taking place at the same time. The students could then turn to look at the section of the experiment they were most concerned about. There could even be 360 videos of fieldtrips that can expose students in advance to the actual fieldtrip, enabling them to get started on experiments far more quickly. Students could visit CERN in Switzerland virtually or, indeed, anywhere else on the planet. This would be useful for all subjects (particularly geography and classics).

These are just a few suggestions. As more people start using the tech, I’m sure that the ideas will grow. It will not, of course, replace the teacher. Nor would it be the main way of teaching. But, as with all teaching strategies, it will help some students to learn far more effectively.

How do you see VR’s place in the classroom? Feel free to add suggestions in the comments below.

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