As seen on eCampus News

3 best practices from VR implementation across departments

By Andrew Woodberry
January 16th, 2018

Professors across many disciplines are embracing VR technology as an integral part of their learning tools

While many professors recognize virtual reality (VR) as an emerging classroom technology, some still struggle with how to incorporate it into their curriculum. There’s a default view that VR is only good for virtual field trips or in specific departments like computer science or media production. The truth is that VR is quite easy to produce and can be effective cross-discipline; it shouldn’t be pigeonholed as appropriate for only certain departments. VR is already being used for many real-world applications–hiring, training, marketing/sales, medical purposes, entertainment, and more–and is worth considering for many different university departments.

For instance, Emporia State University (ESU) in Kansas first used our platform to capture a 360-degree historical reenactment by their venerable history professor, Dr. Joyce Thierer. History seems an unlikely starting point for proving the value of VR, but the reenactment took place off-campus, and the school wanted to preserve the performance going forward in the most realistic fashion possible.

Using VR transports the viewer of that application to a close-up view of the performance, immersing them in all the sights and sounds without field-of-vision limitations. And using a VR headset to view it fully captures the audience’s attention, not allowing for the usual distractions that accompany something like watching a YouTube video on your laptop.

At German University in Cairo, architecture students used our platform to create tours of historical Cairo buildings, complete with educational hotspot overlays on particularly interesting features. This multimedia approach educated students without them having to travel to the buildings. It also made for a more “stickier” learning experience for the students involved in creating it.

For disciplines with lots of field work, VR is a great way to set up more practice opportunities. At Emporia State University, for example, the forensic science students view virtual crime scenes recorded at the Kansas Bureau of Investigation in Topeka. Forensic-science students can look for clues and learn facts via voiceover, mimicking an actual crime-scene inquiry quite impressively.

And marketing students at ESU have been incorporating VR into their capstone projects, working with local businesses to promote them via the technology. Most of these local companies would not have access to VR equipment, so the students are able to provide a unique and valuable service to them. For almost all of the students, this will be the first mobile app they ever author, but learning VR creation will be a valuable skill they can take with them to post-graduation employment opportunities.

Tips for using virtual reality

Dr. Anna Catterson, instructional designer and researcher at ESU, shared some of her learnings from building VR, as it relates to cross-discipline VR introduction.

1. Link VR content to course outcomes. If you want to VR to succeed in your college classroom, you have to look at how 360-degree audio and video adds value. The forensic-science department, for example, is trying to get a close approximation of a crime scene so that students can acclimate to the job environment and take a real-world approach to investigations. Adding VR without adding value will not be effective.
2. Do a proof-of-concept app first. The history reenactment app was a great starting point, as it was a simple-to-film, single-location shoot that didn’t require much editing. You want to start simple to get an early win. They learned valuable lessons during that shoot, such as best camera placement to minimize distractions.

3. Get buy-in at the highest levels. Marketing students in the capstone project are presenting the final apps to the President, Provost, and other administration officials. Once you get buy-in at an administrative level, it’s easier to secure funding for more equipment and more promotion of your work to other departments.

Virtual Reality has become easy to create for college students in the last few years. 360-degree cameras are mainly point-and-shoot now, and web-based authoring can be done on a drag-and-drop basis, with no coding required. As VR cameras and headsets become more affordable and ubiquitous, professors across many different disciplines will hopefully embrace the technology as an integral part of their learning technology stack.

About the Author:

Andrew Woodberry is the head of Sales & Marketing at InstaVR, a web-based platform for authoring, publishing, and analyzing 360-degree VR content. Since launching in December 2015, more than 10,000 users have signed up to create their own VR applications.