Using Virtual Reality in Education
November 1, 2019 | 6 min read
Using Virtual Reality in Education
Preparing to Setup Your First VR Workstation
Top professors, teachers, and librarians across the world are embracing the power of virtual reality (VR) to help revolutionize the future of education.
Every great teacher wants their classroom to be a positive learning environment where they can transform lives and push intellectual boundaries. Unfortunately, many feel that they are in a constant uphill battle for their student’s attention.
VR Learning experiences, which were once limited to multi-million dollar facilities (e.g. CAVE systems), are now available through low-cost VR systems. These systems can be used to enhance STEM learning initiatives, increase student engagement and bring experiences to the classroom that would be impossible without technology.
While VR technology is exciting, after talking to dozens of schools, universities, and libraries, we understand how challenging it can be to set up a VR lab for the first time. Whether you’re interested in setting up a VR Lab in the future or you need help with your current installation we’ve created this guide to help you master your initial setup.
Guide & Plan
This is how we’ll get started with that critical first workstation.
- Order/Install Hardware
- Optimize VR Station Placement
- Find Relevant Content
- Decide How to Manage Stations
- Prepare for Users
Hardware Selection for Educational Virtual Reality
There are three primary (and a handful of up-and-coming secondary) hardware platforms for high-end virtual reality: HTC, Oculus, and Windows Mixed Reality.
Brief Background on the Depicted Hardware Above
- HTC, in partnership with the gaming company, Valve, is a Taiwanese-based maker of the Vive headset (and it’s variations).
- Oculus is owned by Facebook and credited with “bringing back VR” after it’s successful Kickstarter campaign in 2012. While some schools do choose to use the Rift/Rift S.
- The Windows Mixed Reality (WMR) set of headsets represent a Windows standard built by third-party manufacturers (Samsung, Dell, Acer, HP). Of these, we highly recommend the HP Reverb VR Headset Pro Edition.
Each headset manufacturer represents a different price point and a combination of strengths and weaknesses, but, at the high-end (Vive, Oculus and WMR) these headsets provide for six degrees of positional tracking (“‘6 DOF’, in the lingo”) via external sensors, higher frame rates (which translates to a smoother experience for the user), and fully interactive virtual reality educational experiences (as opposed to the 360 video content one might encounter on an entry-level headset, like Google cardboard).
SpringboardVR is able to support any of these headsets provided they are running SteamVR content (which is the type of content found in our Marketplace).
VR Station Location for Educational Institutions
It’s important to provide VR access for the widest range of potential users. That means a highly-trafficked, centralized deployment location for the first-experience virtual reality workstation is critical.
Libraries, including public, academic, and school libraries already align with the interactive virtual “library” concept promised by 3D technology. In a campus library, representatives from academic departments are constantly interacting and sharing ideas, tools, and recommendations. By putting virtual reality in the library, you are in effect putting VR at the center of that conversation.
Likewise, student centers, larger individual colleges (e.g. engineering, business, arts & sciences, etc.), graduate lounges, and local museums are well-positioned to serve as centralized exposure hubs for location-based (VR) education at the university level, regardless of the academic discipline of visitors.
VR Content for Educational Institutions
It’s difficult for someone to have a bad first-time virtual reality experience, especially on high-end workstations, but there are ways to ensure that your users think about what they experienced for a long time after their exposure visit. The best way to achieve this is with a good selection of entry-level content, where user groups — regardless of academic background — can gain exposure to the true power of the technology.
VR “fidelity” — defined in the scientific literature as the extent to which the virtual experience resembles its real-world counterpart — is an awe-inspiring characteristic of the virtual reality experience, and maximizing fidelity is key to winning over campus stakeholders. In theBlu, for example, one can visit the deep sea, a coral reef, or even have intensely realistic encounters with a full-sized blue whale. This is expertly produced, fully interactive & immersive content that is sure to win over even the most skeptical visitors.
For content that is a bit more academic (but still fun!), check out Realities.IO, where architecturally, historically, and ecologically relevant sites around the world have been painstakingly 3D scanned for virtual exploration at the highest level of detail. Visit Death Valley, European Cathedrals, or the remote Canadian backcountry in this high-quality virtual travel experience.
Station Management & User Experience
There’s definitely an art to shuttling students through a high-end VR experience. Be sure to take advantage of SpringboardVR’s booking and reservation functionality when you set out to deploy your exposure level VR lab.
Hygiene and user comfort are also paramount to ensuring repeat use of your organization’s virtual reality facilities. VR is the most powerful tool to enter the education environment since the textbook, because it allows the user to stand, face-to-face, with the object of study (e.g. anatomical structures, artistic creations, far-off lands). Due to the head-mounted display technology, it’s also one of the most intimate technologies to enter the mainstream.
As noted in Foundry10’s aggregate findings from a large-scale VR classroom integration, students can feel self-conscious in virtual reality, and care should be taken to make sure experiences are not disturbed by the external environment or other users. This can be accomplished by the adequate spacing between workstations and clear instructions to fellow participants.
This self-consciousness can occur again, after the experience, when students who spend time (and money) preparing their clothing and hair, for example, remove the headset. A small mirror is recommended, to combat this potentially off-putting aspect of the experience, so students can feel comfortable “re-joining” the real, non-VR world. Once the headset is removed, it’s important to wipe down the interface (the parts of the headset that actually touch the skin), so pathogens cannot spread across user groups.
Igniting Progress & Changing the Future
Unlike textbook assignments or classroom lectures, virtual reality provides for first-hand learning experiences — direct access to the academic source material, regardless of discipline. Students learn in VR by interacting directly with the object of study; and across a myriad of University departments, students and faculty are benefiting. Anthropology, Architecture, Biochemistry, Engineering, and Anatomy are all among the academic fields where the scientific literature has been discussed in detail, and — with the advent of new software — potential new applications are revealed every semester.
This is more than just a new way to interact with digital content — these are comprehensive learning environments, where the experience of the student can be precisely directed and all-encompassing.
All it takes is a handful of committed faculty or one deep-pocketed University donor to spin up a full-scale virtual reality lab that the entire campus community can benefit from.
The most successful academic institutions have already deployed VR to support undergraduate instruction, faculty research efforts, and more. Now is the time to begin the process of exposing your community to the wonder — and potential academic impact — that virtual reality affords.
Download the 30-Day Plan for Implementing VR in Educational Institutions
We’ve created this 30 Day Plan to be your A-Z guide from a basic setup to implementing VR into your curriculum. We based this guide on conversations with dozens of successful K12 schools, Universities, and Libraries who paved the way for institutions like yours.
We want you to be the teacher remembered for bringing VR to your students. Once ready to implement this plan, the following 30 days will be the launching point of having engaged students whose eyes light up and rush to tell their friends about their recent learning experience. Here is what we cover in the 30-Day Plan:
- Setting Up Hardware and Software
- Holding an Open House
- Hosting A Follow Up Event
- Integrating Content into Curriculum
- Making Your Case to Decision Makers
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