Virtual Reality & Higher Education: suggestions, benefits and value

Restart a Heart 2021You might have seen some of Bournemouth University’s Virtual Reality (VR) kit in action last week during the Restart a Heart Day. The university’s Learning Technologists were out in force with Oculus VR equipment to show you how the heart works, and what it looks like from the inside.  

So, if you saw someone wearing big goggles and moving their head around with stretched arms, that’s what was going on.  

How can VR be brought into the classroom? 

There are different ways to use VR in a classroom setting. And no, you don’t even need the funny goggles as much of the work has been made available for PCs, Laptops, Tablets and even phones. This means no expensive equipment and no additional investment. 

Just think that not long ago it was unacceptable to use a phone in the classroom. Now, thanks to tools like Mentimeter, phones are not only accepted but expected as part of the learning process.  

Organisations, museums, and more now offer the opportunity to visit places and to travel in time. And if you have a screen, you are covered.  

But what can we use VR for?  

The magic happens when you find the best way to use VR for your own discipline. Many industries are currently relying on this option to highlight their latest projects and, now that we are much more open to diving deep into online events, this can only mean that we can take our students anywhere. Serpentine Galleries? Check! Mars? Check!  

5 Suggestions to use VR in Higher Education:  

#1 Field Trips

Explore the universe from the comfort of the classroom  

Imagine giving your students a detailed view of the Titanic. Being able to zoom in and see the swimming pool, or the hospital or the engine room. If you think this is impossible, think again. History View offers access and a detailed view of all the nooks and crannies of the passenger liner that sank in the North Atlantic Ocean in 1912. In this same way, you can head all the way to the Amazon rainforest. Or to Vietnam and Myanmar to see temples and caves.

Amazon Odyssey VR

#2 Immersive experiences

Experience a natural disaster without putting yourself in danger 

The New Zealand Fire Emergency department has created an immersive setting that allows anyone to feel like they are inside a building on fire. It takes Fire Safety Training to a whole new level and the active learning experience allows the trainees to draw more knowledge from it than from a scripted written test.  

The Regional Flood Control District (Clark County, Nevada – USA) has created an immersive experience for a flood setting that allows the user to see what happens when a driver tries to go through a flooded street. With this option, you can learn what to do if you find yourself in this situation by experiencing it in first person. 

#3 Real-life professional settings

Practice new skills in a safe environment

Lawyers, Doctors, Nurses… any professional can benefit from practicing on a VR set before taking their skills into the real world.  arch_virtual_medical_training

A recent study from Harvard Business Review showed that VR-trained surgeons had a 230% boost in their overall performance compared to their traditionally trained counterparts. Healthcare can change for the better thanks to VR, not just for the medical staff but also for patients. The Mpathic-VR technology is allowing users to talk with emotional, virtual humans who can see, hear and react to them in real-time. The virtual humans used a full range of behaviours expected of two people talking together allowing medical students to practice difficult conversations before going out and experiencing them in real life. 

Another industry that has been using VR technology is the legal sector. Seeing a virtual courtroom, addressing it virtually before facing the real thing is of significant help for graduates and new professionals. Furthermore, VR may come in handy for jurors trying to reach a verdict. In a paper published this May, researchers from the University of South Australia investigated whether the ability to inspect crime scenes in virtual reality could help jurors make decisions in courtroom trials. They measured the impact of viewing the same crime scene in VR versus a photographic slideshow and found that virtual reality led participants to a more consistent verdict.  

But there are more applications: engineering, history, physics, archaeology, anthropology. The virtual world’s opportunities are endless.  

#4 Worldwide Collaboration

Take part in projects regardless of the teams’ location 

Thanks to VR students from opposite sides of the world can collaborate on the same project. That is exactly what the Giza Project at Harvard University is about. The project gives you access to the largest collection of information, media, and research materials ever assembled about the Pyramids and Egypt’s Giza Plateau thanks to international partnerships between institutions with Giza-related collections. This project wouldn’t be possible without the technology to build immersive 3D model reconstructions

#5 Mindfulness

Improve your mental wellbeing with the latest technology

It’s not all work in the realm of virtual reality. When VR started proving its value in anxiety treatments the term VR therapy started being debated. But in this era of mindfulness, we are happy to see that breathing in and out can be taken to another level. Who could imagine it would be possible to swim with manta rays and turtles during lunch break? 

And if we want to take this approach even further, it is possible to use VR to help women get through childbirth with less pain. The study led by Dr Melissa Wong showed that women who used VR during labour had a statistically significant reduction in pain, while those who did not use VR had a statistically significant increase in pain. 

Unfortunately, it’s not all fun and games and VR does come with an associated cost if you want to go down the route of creating environments. A way to minimise this is by researching apps that may already have the content you are looking for. A stroll in the digital app stores may open a wealth of resources and save you from investing time and money trying to reinvent the wheel. However, BU has worked with external providers before and this is an avenue that can be explored.  Samsung insights

Have you considered using VR for your teaching? Contact FLIE’s Learning Technologists to discuss the possibilities.

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