Learning in VR

Learning in VR

Virtual Reality – some have dreamed about this for years. In the late 80’s and early 90’s, Star Trek The Next Generation brought us the holodeck, where any imaginable story could be told with virtual actors and interactive scenes. And while we’re a long way from that virtual reality (VR), a few minutes in an Oculus Rift headset will likely convince you we’re on the right path to get there.phne

At the Center for Teaching, Learning, and Technology, we’ve been experimenting with an Oculus Rift (contact your liaison if you’d like to try it out!) and it’s amazing. We’ll have one on public display for anyone to try later this semester.

But an Oculus Rift needs a computer to run, and it’s pretty resource heavy. What if you could use a computer most people have with them all the time, with speakers and screen at the ready, to view VR scenes and stories? Google knows most of us already have a pretty powerful computer with us everywhere we go; we just call it a phone.

At the CTLT, we have recently acquired several versions of a relatively new product called Google Cardboard that’s designed to take full advantage of that pocket computer. And frankly, we’re floored with how good a VR experience Google has created with a box and your phone. Even on a phone that’s a generation or two old, the experience is fantastic.

Google Cardboard Viewer

Google Cardboard Viewer

Swim with sharks, run with dinosaurs, or just go for a stroll around New York City, all inside a little box. The only downside we’ve discovered so far is that, for most of us here at the CTLT, it’s impossible to look cool with a box on your face. But once we tried it, we didn’t mind how we looked to everyone else. It’s an amazing experience.

And it’s an amazing experience that we can bring into the classroom. Later this semester, CTLT Liaison Andrew Bell is offering Part 1 of a 2-part workshop series we’re offering about Bring Your Own Device. At the CTLT, we’re always looking over the horizon, trying to see how best to use the technology students are bringing into class, emerging education technologies, and what combination of those things can best reinforce the effective teaching and learning already taking place at UR.

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Flying with dinosaurs

In this case, what could we do with this piece of cardboard? With the right app, we can do just about anything. You can already explore ancient Pompeii online, but what if instead of using the monitor and keyboard, you could walk through the city in a VR headset? Or explore a current archeological dig and have students learn how and why decisions are made on site? Or explore the Zaatari Syrian refugee camp in the midst of a class discussion on global politics, or mass migration, or ethics? All of these examples use technology that exists today, and that can engage learning in some exciting new ways.

As just one example, by using a smartphone, the cardboard headset, and an app called VRSE, you can surf the waves with a professional surfer. More than that, however, you can “see” the way a pro surfer reads waves, understands currents, and learn how he surfs through annotations in the video. Text and indicators laid on top of the video help a learner know where to look, why certain things are important, etc. Here, the example is surfing; using the same technology, the example could be ancient Pompeii, the human circulatory system, a map of bird migrations…. It’s just a box and a smartphone, but it opens a whole world for learners to explore.

Screenshots from learning to surf:

We’re continuing to try and learn from the fun new virtual reality apps, especially on Google Cardboard, and invite faculty to stop by or make an appointment with your liaison to talk about possibilities for incorporating virtual reality in student learning. We’d also like to invite everyone in the UR community to stop by our virtual reality demonstration on November 17 in the Tyler Haynes Commons. We’ll be on the first floor, so please join us, try it out, and let’s explore ways this might work in the classroom.