With the release of the movie “Ready Player One” in the theaters soon people are starting to ask “Can education actually happen in VR?”. Well, let me tell you another story, one of the non-fictional and very real kind. I was a college student once, not too long ago in fact as I graduated in 2008. Ten years have passed and I still hear the same stories of poor adoption rates for online classes and lack of funding for technology across the board, no matter if in grade school or college.
I attended a private college in Florida (University Of Tampa) after doing three years at a community college and a lot of hard work in between to make scholarships happen. My college was pretty hip on technology and offered online courses which I thought was great since trying to get to a class at 8am on a Friday is challenging for the collegiate lifestyle. I also did not live on campus since I was taking care of my ill father or was able to drive, so I had a lot of challenges in my way to make things work but I was so determined to do the best I could with the resources offered.
There was something seriously lacking about an online course, even if it had video supplements I couldn’t really interact with the teachers right then and there, plus I would have liked to know and be able to collaborate with my fellow students outside of a message board or AOL Instant Messenger. This is hilarious, because I was going for a communications degree and I felt completely disconnected. I truly believe that my real education came from interacting, being able to experience with others and brainstorming, which was hard to do on a computer screen.
Fast forward, ten years later. I am now working at Doghead Simulations on a virtual reality collaboration, meeting and education software (rumii) with some of the best minds in technology and education at Full Sail University. The same problems still exist. But what is truly different is that we, at Doghead Simulations, are changing this.
Virtual reality has powerful impact and multiple uses in education. We have the ability to be immersed in a “classroom” or “auditorium” with our fellow students to converse and collaborate. Teachers can easily give a presentation with 3D models or be connected with students across the world.
Recently, at Doghead Simulations, connected a classroom in Nashville, TN with a class in a very remote part of Tanzania, Africa for a PBS documentary “Good All Over” in VR using our software rumii. What a moment that was, most of these kids haven’t even seen a computer or cell phone. I think our whole team cried that day at the impact that VR can have on connecting people like never before.
What makes it different from online courses? Immersion, Interactivity, and Experience.
Can you only imagine being able to have students working on projects and brainstorming in VR? Or teachers being able to teach from anywhere but still interact with their class? Have you ever seen a fully animated beating heart that is eight feet tall in front of your face in great detail? Another plus is being able to give a presentation in the front of the class without being nervous that your hands are shaking or your skirt is somehow tucked into your underwear. (Yes, this has happened to me. Ask my world history class of ’07, I am sure none of them forgot that.)
This isn’t the future, the future is now. We just have to find a way to gain support and implement it.
Yes, we all know all the limitations. Yes, VR can be expensive, people are scared of technology or fear change from the normal. But I have to argue there isn’t a very good reason to pay up to $600 or more a semester in textbooks either. By the way, high-five to all those students like myself that bought used for those already highlighted books, students can easily trade and do the same for VR hardware. A “pass it down” program would be awesome to help VR immersion in schools. (Just make sure you use those baby wipes!)
VR labs can easily be set up on campus as well, since companies like HTC Vive tend to offer multiple headset packages for businesses. Mobile VR headsets such as the Oculus Go and Samsung Gear VR are super affordable and easily adapted without outside hardware or expensive, powerful laptops. We also have the option to use rumii on a desktop or mobile phone which you don’t get full immersion but the classroom experience is still there.
We are beyond proud to have the support from Full Sail University to help us at Doghead Simulations make that leap into their programs with VR. There has to be small steps taken for all educational facilities to get on board to offer the most they can with a fast changing world, limited resources, and strained budgets. If I learned anything in college it would be that it only takes one stone to make a ripple in a pond and in that we hope to change the face of education and communication with rumii and virtual reality.