Conceptually, virtual reality (more commonly known as VR) traces its origins back to the 1950s. During this time, cinematographer Morton Heilig developed a machine called the Sensorama, which featured “moving chairs and odor meters while providing a visual treat to the audience” (Virtual Reality, n.d.) . Since this era, VR has been perfected by video game giants and tech gurus who have evolved this experience to mimic reality down to the finest details.
Recent reports have shown that, while students are scoring higher in math assessments than in previous years, internationally the U.S. ranks in the middle, and still lags behind other advanced industrial nations (Desilver, 2015). In order to alleviate this problem, some educational experts are looking into the world of virtual learning. In fact, in the consideration of the world’s most effective learning devices, virtual reality carries substantial weight. That is, groups like the Institute for Defense Analyses have added to the argument, stating that “One of the unique capabilities of (virtual reality) is that it allows students to visualize abstract concepts, to observe events at atomic or planetary scales, and to visit environments and interact with events that distance, time, or safety factors make unavailable” (Sunrise, n.d.).
Capitalizing on the popularity of VR, The Void, a video game theme park in Utah, is currently working on “blending virtual reality experiences with physical environments”, aiming to provide its patrons with a unique experience upon its projected opening season in summer of 2016 (Tech Insider, 2015). One of the highlights of the park is that it will allow customers to explore miles of topographic features and explore tall buildings, all within the realm of the game pod (Mufson, 2015). Through this experience, students studying about vast terrain in science or performing measurements for math assignments in the classroom, can enjoy a new approach to learning these concepts. With ticket costs ranging between $29 and $39 per person, The Void is an affordable way for students to gain supplementary experiences that can enhance traditional instruction (Gibbs, 2015).
Starting as a Kickstarter campaign, the Oculus Rift is also amassing VR followers. Packaged as one of the premier VR experiences, new mobile-style classrooms are offering the opportunity for students to test out immersive visualization through the Oculus Rift. The unique headset gives users the most true-to-life encounters available on the market. In addition to teaching basic math and science concepts, the Rift is enabling students to practically understand how engineers and developers pattern realistic experiences and translate them to the virtual world. Some headsets are even offering a virtual test drive of a career in veterinary surgery (Smith, 2015).
In May of this year, PCS Labs offered an “Evolution of Video Game Development” wherein students were able to learn about video games throughout history, and were even able to create their own games through Unity. Lessons like these foster curiosity and facilitate STEM discussion through hands on experiences, which engage the minds of future innovators.
Virtual Reality Guide. (n.d). History of virtual reality – where did it all begin? Retrieved October 22, 2015, from http://www.virtualrealityguide.com/history-of-virtual-reality
Desilver, D. (2015, February 2). U.S. students improving – slowly – in math and science, but still lagging internationally. Retrieved October 22, 2015, from http://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2015/02/02/u-s-students-improving-slowly-in-math-and-science-but-still-lagging-internationally/
Sunrise. (n.d.). STEM careers and US competitiveness. Retrieved October 22, 2015, from http://www.sunrisevr.com/stem-and-us-competitiveness/#.VikRoJ3F98F
Tech Insider. (2015, September 2). Inside the void: an exclusive look at the future of virtual reality. Retrieved October 22, 2015, from http://www.techinsider.io/inside-the-virtual-reality-theme-park-the-void-2015-9
Mufson, B. (2015, May 6). Enter “the void”: the world’s first virtual reality theme park. Retrieved October 22, 2015, from http://thecreatorsproject.vice.com/blog/enter-the-void-the-worlds-first-virtual-reality-theme-park
Gibbs, A. (2015, May 20). Welcome to ‘the matrix’? theme park with virtual reality twist. Retrieved October 22, 2015, from http://www.cnbc.com/2015/05/20/the-void-plans-virtual-reality-theme-park.html
Smith, D. (2015, October 9). Virtual reality opens new pathways for hands-on learning. Retrieved October 22, 2015, from http://www.edtechmagazine.com/k12/article/2015/10/virtual-reality-opens-new-pathways-hands-learning
By: Lindsay Reeves