Virtual Reality in Classrooms Will Make Learning More Fun
This year marks the year in which virtual reality ceases to be stuff you can only find in the movies or Hollywood fantasy sci-fi flicks. Just last week, Oculus Virtual reality (VR), a company primarily targeted at virtual reality released the Oculus Rift. This headset will be the first head mounted virtual reality display to be available in the market.
As it stands, software for virtual reality devices have mainly been targeted at the video game niche while a small number of software developers are testing the abilities of the technology for classroom use and exploring fresh ways in which students can get insightful educational experiences and other brand new ventures.
The Cat Cadaver Program
Sophomore Daniel Heinen, a biology major with a minor in computer science is the brains behind the program called Cat Cadaver. This program helps transform the way students use their textbooks. The idea for this program came to Daniel over the winter break as a result of a stretch of boredom and this has since developed into a solo project that is far from boring.
With the aid of computer graphic imaging processing, Heinen can combine both 2D and 3D models into one 3D object. The project can be manipulated directly with just the hands of the owner. The program is capable of letting the user explore the feline anatomy by virtually cutting or dissecting the animal with the help of several different hand motions without getting their hands dirty or actually cutting open any animal.
“I had been wanting to create a virtual anatomy lab for about a year,” Heinen said. “3D models of the human body are available online, but those being produced on an academic level aren’t really polished. You can rotate them, manipulate them, but they aren’t very informative. I want to structure the projects created around the existing curriculum.”
Heinen believes that the introduction of this technology into academia could potentially drive interactive lab sessions and this will afford students the opportunity to learn things in a way they haven’t previously been able to. 3D models especially in the fields of science will offer students a better vantage point when learning a new subject matter and the ability to engage in virtual hands on learning will be very beneficial inside and outside of the lab. He believes that incorporating virtual reality in classrooms will make learning a lot more fun.
“Virtual reality is still in a very experimental state,” Heinen said. “But, I hope to see it go somewhere. Regardless, it’s a great learning experience unlike anything most students have access too. Text books can be boring. By adding this type of technology, we could potentially make them fun.”
Dr. Sarah Herrick who is the assistant professor of biology is not just the academic adviser to Heinen but also the primary adviser for his Cat Cadaver program and having seen what virtual reality is capable of, she is now of the opinion that more virtual reality programs in academia is bound to happen but that the technology will still not replace textbooks.
“Virtual reality simulations allow for a much cleaner lab experience,” Herrick said. “But I really do hope it never comes to replace textbooks. If anything, it provides another venue for students to understand the information being presented. Some students are visual learners, others are more hands on. Some of the more squeamish students may be hesitant to work on a real cat, and may be more comfortable starting off with a virtual variant, but it will never be exactly like the real thing. In some cases, the best approach will always be hands on.”