Imagine – instead of flicking through a history textbook, attempting to visualise what it would be like to explore Ancient Chinese sites such as the Great Wall, you could transport yourself to a virtual world and take a stroll into history- to the Great Wall itself.
Thanks to the emerging trend in education technology that is Virtual Reality (VR) and Augmented Reality (AR), this is starting to become a reality within schools and higher education.
So, what is VR and AR all about?
VR is a game changer
Virtual Reality (VR) is the use of computer technology to create a simulated environment, which allows the user to interact and explore as if they were actually in a 3D world.
Users are transported to this artificial world by wearing a head-mounted display (HMD) and some form of input tracking, where the display generated by the computer is split between your eyes. This creates the 3D effect with added sound which will make you feel that you’re there mentally and physically.
Gaming is often the focus of emerging technologies such as VR and AR. VR versions of popular videogames are now on the market that offer gamers an exciting experience with headsets and motion sense controllers so they can really immerse themselves in the game. But this exciting piece of tech is starting to become more than just about gaming – particularly from an education perspective.
Virtual Reality will take the user away from the real world and place them in a replicated environment, along with artificial visual experiences. Augmented Reality is a live view of the surrounding environment, with augmented aspects such as sound or images.
What are the benefits to VR in education?
A recent survey discovered that 79% of educators feel that VR provides experiences to students that would not be possible otherwise.
The benefits to using VR within higher education are huge. Whilst in schools it’s an effective way to engage students who struggle to learn, there are also advantages for students in higher education institutions too.
One of the best uses for Virtual Reality in higher education is architectural design, enabling students to view and explore their designs in real time before the actual construction of the buildings would begin.
VR also offers students the opportunity to learn by doing, which has been shown to be a more effective method of learning than just seeing or hearing. Medical students, for example, can be given the opportunity with Virtual Reality to go inside the human body and gain a better understanding of their studies and even simulate real life surgery.
Its purpose within higher education institutions doesn’t end at experiencing the activities that students are learning about. Universities can use this tech by implementing it within their digital strategy by offering virtual, 360- degree angle tours of their campus and even a tour of the surrounding city. This is a great way to grab the attention of potential applicants and increase the likelihood of them attending a university open day.
Universities who are getting the VR trend right
The Manchester Metropolitan University Virtual Tour uses VR as part of their student recruitment process by providing a walk-through of the university campus on their website. The unique tour requires students to scroll down in order for the video to play, where they meet various students along their virtual journey, the tour ends with a landing page that students can sign up to attend the open day.
Oxford Brookes University used this cutting-edge tech last year, also as part of their recruitment process. Students downloaded the VR tour to their phones and were then handed headsets so they could experience life on campus and get a taster of the teaching and learning spaces that were available at Oxford Brookes.
University of Westminster have developed a ‘virtual space’ for criminal law students. Instead of students reading witness statements, they can walk around a virtual crime scene looking for clues whilst using skills that would be required in real-life situations to determine whether a suspect could be placed at the scene of the crime.
Augmented Reality: The emerging technology
Just like VR, Augmented Reality (AR) is set to have an impact on education technology and eventually incorporate itself into the education curriculum.
Slightly different to VR, AR simulates superimposed, computer-generated artificial objects in your real-world environment (think Pokémon Go) and printed material, enhancing your perception of reality.
Soon all phones that are produced will be smartphones- meaning students will be able to access AR content at any time. Content that can be accessed includes augmented models from historic buildings to parts of the human anatomy.
A great example of AR in action is Apple’s announcement of AR for IOS at WWDC 2017.
Both realities are an emerging trend within education technology that’s starting to prove a useful tool for educators when providing lessons to pupils.
Universities that utilise this technology show that even though we are in a world that is becoming more and more digitalised, they are still able and willing to keep up with the latest, innovative technologies and move with the times, which improves the quality of learning for current students and is key to recruiting future, tech-savvy students too.
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