Virtual Reality or VR is a computer-based technology that provides visual, aural and tactile stimuli of a virtual world generated in real time. This is usually achieved by isolating the user from the real world, thus creating the immersion effect, giving the feeling of being present in a virtual world instead of the one they’re actually in. (Sanchez, Lumbers & Silva, 1999)
What is immersion?
Immersion is the perception of being physically present in a nonphysical or virtual world. The perception is created by surrounding the user of the VR system with images, sound or other stimuli that provide a very absorbing environment. Spatial immersion occurs when the user feels the simulated world is perceptual that he or she actually is "there". (Freina & Ott, 2015).
There is a variety of input and output devices that are used to immerse the user, stimulating as many human senses as possible, most efficiently through a headset. Headset devices use a stereoscopic display for immersing the user into the digital world visually, while handheld devices are used to track the user’s movement. (Ezawa, 2016; Meinhold, 2013).
Can VR be implemented into education?
Virtual Reality was firstly created for entertainment purposes and was then implemented by the US Airforce as part of their flight training program. Later on, it was adopted by other industrial sectors such as Architecture, Medicine and Engineering. Despite its wide impact in both entertainment and training fields, education has still been trying to find ways to embrace VR into classes.
VR’s impact on education
Virtual Reality has the potential to revolutionize education, as it immerses students in their learning more than any other available medium (Gadelha, 2018). Here are some of the most common advantages that virtual reality has to offer in education.
Maximum Safety / low cost
VR enables learners to explore and experience an environment in complete safety, and immerse themselves into settings that would otherwise be inaccessible or too complex to recreate in physical form. (Liu et. al, 2017; Jin Rong; 2017). For example, imagine diving into a sea full of sharks in order to study their natural habitat. How possible and dangerous such a scenario would be to experience in the real world?
Making learning fun
VR has the potential to make learning more enjoyable by allowing students to translate their personal experiences, emotions and memories to the virtual environment. (Lee, 2017). A research by Ozkan (2017) showed that the VR tools in classrooms may have significant positive effects on class motivation, improving students’ engagement with the simulated concept or scenario.
VR technology can stimulate or create scenes and effects, particularly when realistic visualizations of scientific material are important for gaining a deeper understanding of the subject matter. This way the users can experience the concepts and learn them first-hand through three-dimensional (3D) visualization (Lee et al., 2017). For example, in medical research, VR can visualize the inner organs and make it accessible for the researchers to “operate” some virtual nervous tissue (Morehead et al., 2014).
Viewing and interacting with objects at true scale seems to be one of the strongest affordances of Virtual reality. This way, it encourages students to be active learners, because it promotes decision-taking when interacting with the virtual objects, permitting autonomous exploration, understanding complex concepts, creating new experiences, producing the “learning by doing” effect. (Davidekova et al., 2017; Martin-Gutierez, 2017). Therefore, the intrinsic properties and cognitive mechanism of VR technologies enable learners to consciously focus on what they are experiencing and to engage in more meaningful learning (Shen, 2017).
At present, the application of VR technology in the field of education is still on the progress of preliminary attempt, and yet brought into the conventional classrooms on a large scale. However, because of its characteristics of immersion and interaction, VR has broad prospects for application in the field of education (Liu, 2017)