An End to Virtual Reality?

It’s a little shocking, to say the least, that the end of this is approaching so quickly, but it’s far from being over as there’s so much left to learn. Over the course of the past few months, I’ve worked closely with faculty advisor Dr. James Lawler researching some of the many educational virtual reality applications that are out on the market. Ultimately, most, if not all, the applications that we test on students will be implemented into a classroom for students with special needs. These past few months have been incredibly eye opening as I delved much deeper into the world of virtual reality. I had only ever used a VR headset for the first time when I met with faculty at the AHRC Middle/High School and it was only a snippet of students’ learning experience in the classroom. For the first few moments, I found myself standing in reality only to find myself standing under water the next watching as a whale swam over my head.

After reviewing the extensive collection of educational VR apps on gaming platform Steam, the Oculus Rift store, and Viveport, we were able to narrow down the applications that will be used in the upcoming weeks to test on students. As our control group, we will be using 24 Pace students and our main focus will be a group of 24 students with special needs. Both groups will be able to get the chance to use the apps that we have chosen on two different VR devices, the HTC Vive and Oculus Rift, respectively. Listed below are the three applications that we are ecstatic for students to test out:

1. 3D Organon VR Anatomy:

3D Organon VR Anatomy allows individuals to learn about human anatomy with over 4,000 realistic anatomical models/structures with text descriptions per body structure. Bones, muscles, vessels, organs, and other anatomical structures can be manipulated in 3D space. Structures can be examined from all angles, and individuals can delve into the body systems, peek under the skin, and see what we are really made of.

2. Star Chart:

Star Chart offers users a VR planetarium allowing them to explore the solar system and night sky in an accurate real-time simulation. It includes an accurate real-time simulation of visible stars and planets while viewing them from Earth, a 3D solar system to explore, which includes the Sun, planets, major moons, and more, a Sky View mode that recreates a view of the night sky based on personal GPS coordinates, and much more.

3. Ocean Rift:

Ocean Rift is the world’s first VR aquatic safari park. Users are able to explore a vivid underwater world full of life that includes dolphins, sharks, orcas, turtles, sea snakes, rays, manatees, sea lions, whales, and even dinosaurs. It features 12 habitats for users to explore. Environments may range from coral reefs, mangrove swamps and shipwrecks, the deep sea, Arctic, and Atlantis. There is an education mode that can be activated to learn more about the animals that users come across and over 40 fully narrated information points to find.

We’re very much looking forward to the students testing these applications out for the first time, especially those who have never been exposed to virtual reality before.

While there is an extensive number of applications on the market, searching for educational apps that will enable students to grasp difficult concepts such as the human body and oceanography was difficult to do so. We ran into a few pitfalls along the way when we discovered that not every single application that we were interested in testing was compatible with the two devices that we had decided to focus on. That one issue alone had truncated the list of apps that we had initially to just a few. Making a decision on what to use was also quite difficult because we did not want to utilize applications that were difficult to use or did not provide enough of a learning experience for students.

Following the months that have gone by, I don’t think I would have ever taken the time to study and learn about virtual reality had it not been for this research experience. I had always known about VR and how it was making a significant impact in the world of technology, but I didn’t know that the impact went as far as helping individuals in an educational setting. It was very eye opening to be able to get up close and personal as I watched students using a VR headset and enjoying all that it had to offer. To individuals like you and I, it may not seem like much, but to other students with disabilities, being able to learn in such a creative manner is such an amazing experience. With this new knowledge, I know that I want to continue pursuing research in virtual reality and all that it has to offer if it’s going to be as important as something like artificial intelligence.