Today, conventional teaching media are being complemented more often by 3D virtual reality systems because of their didactic potential.
This is due to the fact that virtual reality systems, compared to traditional teaching, and even to other computer applications for didactic purposes, provide the user with a three-dimensional visual environment that is highly interactive and very close to reality; all this, through two key components: immersion and interaction.
Immersion, interaction and participation of users in the narrative, as basic principles of virtual reality, offer a very high potential in education by making learning more motivating and attractive.
Immersion can be divided into several types with characteristics and objectives that must be met for a system to be considered immersive. In this sense, an immersive virtual reality system seeks to make the user lose contact with reality by exclusively perceiving the stimuli of the virtual world.
However, the immersion achieved so far in virtual reality systems is restricted only to spatial immersion, that is, the perception of being physically present in a virtual world. There are two ways of experiencing immersive virtual reality: an HMD (head-mounted display) and a three-dimensional cave-like environment.
Immersive learning with Virtual Reality
The HMD helmet is positioned right in front of the eyes to focus on the screen without distraction; it contains an internal magnetic sensor that detects the movement of the user’s head, so when the user turns their head, the graphics that appear can reflect the changing point of view, allowing a natural visual exploration of the environment.
The CAVE environment consists of four or six walls of almost 3m3, which function as stereo projection screens.
The images are determined as a head-tracking function so that, at least with respect to the visual system, participants can physically move through a limited space and orient their head arbitrarily to be able to perceive. Audio is usually delivered by a set of speakers in discreet positions around the CAVE.
Traditionally, the means of interaction for virtual reality systems have been the conventional ones (keyboard, mouse and joystick).
However, the current trend is to increasingly incorporate more natural forms of interaction, such as touch, speech, gestures, handwriting and vision; this is known as natural user interfaces.
The integration of natural user interfaces with 3D virtual reality environments enables users to interact with virtual objects in much the same way as they would with real objects; in this sense, interaction through gestures is one of the most popular ways.
The immersion and interaction technology used in 3D virtual reality systems allows to overcome educational obstacles present in subjects that, due to their nature, involve situations of danger or potential risk for students; for example, it is possible to get to know places that are difficult to access or dangerous in an easy and safe way without the need to physically move to them.
In particular, in the education sector, in various disciplines there is a need to visit centres where work activities are carried out with the aim of reinforcing learning.
Immersive technologies applied to education and training
The use of immersive technologies is one of the main technological trends in today’s educational environment. These are therefore particularly valuable technologies to support and enhance student learning, training and exploration, thereby reducing the time, risk and cost traditionally required. Their use contributes to increasing student motivation and enhancing experiential learning.
The use of immersive technologies is one of the main technological trends in today’s educational environment. They are therefore particularly valuable technologies to support and enhance student learning, training and exploration, thereby reducing the time, risk and cost traditionally required. Their use helps to increase learner motivation and enhance experiential learning.
When analyzing the possibilities of photography and video 360 applied to education, one of the first options pointed out is to make virtual trips. This type of content gives us an excellent opportunity to travel to unusual places and live new experiences.
In fact, there are excellent applications such as Google Expeditions, which allow you to visit the Great Wall of China, dive into a coral reef or explore outer space, for example, using mobile devices and Virtual Reality viewers. Teachers can transport their students to otherwise inaccessible places – and without leaving the classroom!
The creation of this type of content is also within the reach of teachers and students. With Google’s Tour Creator, teachers create virtual tours and teach their students how to create their own immersive tours, either with their own 360/180 photos or Street View images directly from the browser.
Video 360 has great potential as a storytelling tool, particularly for documentary and real-life storytelling. Today, it has become a very powerful expression tool for storytelling, offering experiences that immerse the user in other people’s lives and environments.
In this way, immersion in other people’s emotional and physical experiences (e.g. cases of bullying, refugees, climate change, war, gender violence, social marginalisation, etc.) and the sense of presence can enable the learner to gain new perspectives and the opportunity to generate greater empathy, deeper understanding and willingness to help.
In fact, organizations such as Doctors Without Borders have for some time now been making known, through 360° video, what is happening in conflict areas such as Syria or in the endless journey of refugees in search of a safe place in the West.
Could this technology make us more concerned about climate change? Surely it is a great tool to raise awareness and motivate us to solve the climate crisis.
Streaming 360 through platforms such as YouTube makes it possible to attend a live event or event virtually. Imagine the possibility of attending a concert with your students that is taking place in another part of the world! Experimentation is already underway with the production and distribution of news in this format, which allows the audience to view content through their VR viewer as it happens. A new system that will allow us to get closer to reality than the traditional storytelling media offer, a new way of knowing what is going on in the world.
Virtual Reality (VR)
Virtual Reality allows us to connect our classrooms with environments and situations that are difficult to reach in real life. It is a technology that promotes learning through exploration and discovery in the first person, by promoting the construction of one’s own knowledge through interaction in a virtual space.
VR environments are capable of recreating places that are inaccessible, that have already disappeared and that have yet to be discovered. Imagine the possibility of travelling inside the human body through the circulatory system and discovering from within how blood cells work; exploring ancient Rome in all its splendour, by visiting the monuments that made it such a fascinating city or travelling into the future and going on expeditions to places that have yet to be discovered, and experiencing, for example, how to survive on Mars.
This technology gives us the possibility to recreate interactive environments that imitate the real world and that are difficult to achieve through direct experience, either because of their complexity, risk or cost. For example, virtual environments within which it is possible to teach a dangerous task (new welding techniques, machinery repair, electrical work, etc.) without exposing the student to danger and thus provide a safe environment for their training. Thus, it could be the solution in those trainings where physical equipment is expensive or limited, where the interaction with virtual equipment allows students to acquire skills that prepare them for real life situations.
The creation of such environments is within the reach of teachers and students. There are software tools, which are being used in education to create virtual worlds or to tell stories. This is another option that this technology already provides, that is, the possibility for students to use it to design virtual worlds and to learn through the act of creation.