Virtual reality learning on campus


Which is changing faster? The way we work? Or the way we learn?

One thing is clear, technology is accelerating the rate of change in both—and blurring the line between them. Case in point: the rapid adoption and evolution of augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR) technologies in the workplace, and on college campuses.

According to IDC, industry-wide spending on AR/VR is expected to double over the next several years and a study commissioned by Dell Technologies pegs the market at $120 billion in 2020. Gartner predicts that by 2021, 60% of all higher education institutions in America will be using AR/VR to create enhanced simulations and learning environments.

Learning by doing
As the chart below shows, ‘experience is the best teacher’—only teaching others results in better retention.

Research indicates that the brain—and body—respond to immersive, interactive VR experiences in a manner very similar to real life.

Source: National Training Laboratories

Learning without fear of failure
In addition to the power of experience, AR/VR enables learners to acquire knowledge in a safe environment. The first simulators were developed to give pilots, surgeons, military personnel, and other professionals a way to practice skills and gain proficiencies without taking major, and often life-threatening risks.

Similarly, AR/VR reduces the impact of mistakes or inexperience in less dangerous areas—as in prototype and methods testing, eliciting consumer feedback during product development, and gaining teaching experience in a classroom of virtual students.

Learning in a shared reality
Universities today are going beyond VR headsets and gaming platforms—applying multiple and mixed reality technologies to deliver new kinds of collaborative and deeply engaging learning experiences.

Dr. Carolina Cruz-Neira, executive director of the Emerging Analytics Center at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock was one of the first to expand virtual experience to more than one person with CAVE (Cave Automatic Virtual Environment), a virtual reality room first developed with colleagues in 1992 as part of her Ph.D. thesis at the University of Illinois at Chicago.

Today students and professors can walk around, view, discuss, and manipulate virtual 3D digital content projected into a room while also experiencing the physical room and interacting with each other. Unlike other VR experiences, the CAVE integrates the social element that allows students to collaborate together. Networked VR enables students and teachers anywhere in the world to go beyond video conferencing and collaborate in the same virtual space.

Learning by flipping the classroom
Active learning environments, like the J and K Virtual Reality Learning Center (VRLC) at Western University Health Sciences integrate customized AR/VR technologies with curricula that ‘flip the classroom’ to enable a high degree of self-guided learning.

Students explore 3D anatomy models, take virtual tours through the body, and manipulate holographic organs. They use an Anatomage Virtual Dissection Table, developed at Stanford University to overcome the challenges medical students experience in learning anatomy without the limitations and expense associated with working on real cadavers.

Now, students can augment their studies by working with life-sized anatomical visualizations taken from scans of over 300 real patients and bodies. Students virtually dissect, move through layers of tissue, examine systems and organs, and rotate body parts—and the whole body—to study details from every angle. The virtual dissection table brings unmatched breadth, depth, clarity, and variety to the learning process and offers extensive opportunities for interaction.

Learning by creating & collaborating
Institutions, professors, and students can begin gaining experience with AR/VR today. Inexpensive off-the-shelf technologies—from 360 video cameras, to cell phone apps and cardboard viewers make the price point of entry quite low. Google Expeditions, The New York Times and The Economist, all offer VR content that instructors can incorporate into curricula.

Dell EMC and its extensive technology partner network are committed to supporting continued collaboration and investment into the research and development of emerging AR/VR technologies. Innovations like these facilitate the ability to learn-in-the-moment, collaborate across time and distance through immersive learning, and help open the door to opportunities that will serve students pursuing all types of careers—including professions that are not yet established, and in a reality that we do not yet know.

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