Virtual reality, or VR, involves a fully digitally simulated experience. This is typically achieved by the user wearing a headset and becoming immersed in a simulated environment, which might range from a virtual world or gaming environment to a 360-degree immersive video.
VR is quite distinct from augmented reality, or AR, which refers to a layering of digital information over our view of reality. The continuum from reality (RE) through augmented reality (AR), mixed reality (MR) and augmented virtuality (AV) to virtual reality (VR) is shown in the diagram at the top of this page. This reality-virtuality continuum, based originally on the work of Paul Milgram and Fumio Kishino, is shown here as represented on the Trekk Blog. For a fuller discussion of the nature of AR, see the augmented reality page.
While the applications of AR in education may be more obvious and more compelling, VR can play a useful role in giving students simulated access to places, times, events, models and processes which they would otherwise experience less directly (for example, only seeing a two-dimensional video of a historical location, or a two-dimensional animation of a molecule). Inexpensive Google Cardboard headsets, coupled with Android phones, are now being widely used in classrooms to allow students to experience immersive videos of settings outside the classroom. To see what is possible, check out this collection of immersive VR educational videos (for Google Cardboard), or the Ancient Colosseum and The Body VR (for Oculus Rift). You might also like to take a look at Google’s collection of WebVR Experiments. With the arrival of cheaper and more user-friendly hardware, it is now also becoming possible for teachers and students to create simple 360-degree videos for each other to experience.
Of course, compared to flat computer monitors, mobile headsets offer a much more immersive experience of virtual worlds and gaming environments. One recent innovation is Facebook Spaces, where several users wearing Oculus Rift headsets can interact as avatars in a virtual space in real time, an experience akin to, but more immersive than, interacting in a virtual world like Second Life.
For more on VR, see:
- Expeditions: Take Your Students to Places a School Bus Can’t (Google for Education, 2015)
- When Virtual Reality Meets Education (Elizabeth Reede, 2016)
- Virtual Reality for Education (Virtual Reality for Education, 2017)
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