Walking in Virtual Worlds

From guest writer Judy Bloxham.

This week I have participated in two conferences. Open Badges in HE at Southampton University, a mere 800 mile round trip in a day. Then Virtual Worlds Best Practices in Education, a conference involving people from all over the world from my office desk. At the first I was just an attendee, but the VWBPE involved presenting in the virtual space with a colleague about our observations of the difference Augmented Reality could make to learning.

So what is this Virtual Reality, how does it differ from Augmented Reality?

Virtual Reality is an immersive space, it has no connection to, or boundaries like the real world. Anything is possible in a virtual world. Steve, my colleague attended as a woman, because he said he was in touch with his feminine side! We attended a virtual party where your avatar (an avatar is your virtual personality) could dance whilst you listened to the music.

Walking in Virtual Worlds
Augmented Reality is grounded in the real world. It is a feed of digital information that relates to your place in the real world. One common use of AR that many of us use on a day-to-day basis is SatNav. The SatNav gives us digital information based on our location via GPS (Global Positioning Systems). Other ways that AR can be triggered is via beacons that can send signals to your mobile device, or via the image that is captured through your device’s camera.

In the virtual world we presented in a large virtual conference hall. Our presentation slides beamed onto three large screens at the back of the hall. The presentation was given by both voice and through a text chat feed that I had been able to upload a pre-prepared script into. I had issues with my headphones, loose wire I think, and for most of the time couldn’t hear anyone else. This shows how a virtual world can foster real team work, my colleague sending a private message of ‘*’ when he was going to start or stop speaking to cue me in. Having said that the feedback from the audience was that they thought the session was a real insight into the possibilities of Augmented Reality.

Walking in Virtual Worlds2This is an example of a virtual environment presented through your PC screen. The processing capacity needed to run this immersive environment is very high. I needed to use a wired network connection rather than the usual WiFi one. This year however has the potential to be the year of the VR headset. New platforms are being developed, and new or improved devices are appearing. However for both PCs and headsets the entry level cost is higher than it was for AR. This may be in terms of device cost or development time.

So if it’s high cost why is it of any interest to learning professionals?

Air France and Immerse Learning have recently won an award for their use of a virtual world in training air crew to use English (the global language of flight control) more effectively. The cost of getting trainees into a location for training was high and difficult to co-ordinate. In between training sessions there weren’t always good opportunities to reinforce learning. And most importantly in a classroom, learning isn’t situated. By using a virtual world they could present simulations of real situations that needed quick thinking and perfect use of the English language to communicate. The outcome was a marked improvement in the engagement and pass rate of learners.

Google Cardboard is the cheapest route into VR. By using your own smart phone in conjunction with the headset you can access some AR experiences that are ready made. This has been used effectively for school field trips. The Google photo app also allows you to take your own 3D photos, thus enabling you to create your own virtual experience. This has been used with construction students to present a construction site to aid them in detecting potential hazards without the risks. Or for a really scary experience Six Flags USA is combining some of its roller coasters with VR!

Earlier this week, ImmersiveVReducation, announced it was going to allow free access to their development environment for educators as long as they shared their content with others. This company has been developing VR experiences for the last two years. Their showcase experience being the Apollo moon landing.

Virtual Reality certainly has some interesting potential for learning. Like the environment itself don’t limit your ideas to what is possible in the real world, think virtually.

If you are interested in reading more about the uses of VR as a learning tool:

This Mixed Reality Educational App Gives You X-Ray Goggles and Takes You Into the Human Body

Virtual Reality and E-learning – Endless Possibilities

Or to find out more about AR for learning:

What is Augmented Reality (AR)?

Advancing Education


Judy Bloxham
Learning Technology Consultant at eComScotland
Twitter: @gingerblox

See also: Tell me more about Virtual Reality
Tell me more about Augmented Reality


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