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Saturday, October 31, 2020

Virtual Reality, the Future is Already Here!

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It has long been associated with science fiction, video games and entertainment, but the fact is that virtual reality will change our lives on so many ways.

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Virtual reality appears to be one of the fastest growing technology sectors. No wonder that Facebook has decided to buy the Oculus Rift, one of the most affordable and advanced machinery in virtual reality, for 2 billion US dollars.

They saw the technological and economic potential of this reality that will push among other electronic entertainment in another era.The first experiments seem to show that this could lead a major change in education as well.

The great advantage of virtual reality is that it provides an almost perfect immersion. With the helmet on, the user is found in a 3D world that replicates not only the effect of depth, but also the manipulation, sounds, etc.

Almost all the senses are stimulated by this technology and, above all, it is very adaptable. Although still marginal, for a decade, virtual reality experiences in educational field start multiplying all over the world.

Already, some campuses use it in their marketing approach. Indeed, prospective students abroad or simply in more distant towns can use this fact to walk around and see what similar facilities. But, beyond the virtual tour, there are also many educational applications.

For example, a construction simulation makes possible, without risking life to experience and perform manipulations in dangerous situations. This technology also has an interest in engineering researchers, psychology and other branches of science.

For example, the UNIL offers simulations in virtual reality through research on the behavior of economic actors.  Finally, everything can be taught using virtual reality. Just change the environment or scenario to teach or observe abstract or concrete elements.

This is not only a technology reserved for vocational training.  An interactive table can simulate math problems from elementary school to academic problems. In London, students learn physical concepts such as energy, the flow of fluids or mechanical engineering.

Although this technology is recent in academia, some researchers have studied classes to see if virtual reality teaches as well or better than traditional teaching. For example, two groups had to study anatomy and function of the eye.

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In the pretest, there was no significant difference between students. One group received a classical education while another taught via virtual models. Then the two cohorts were entitled to the same test on the subject.

Those who used virtual reality were much better. Moreover, according to questionnaires, their motivation was greater. A marked tendency in other reports dealing with this technology. However, for the teacher, the approach differs, because its preparation includes the tool.

He must prepare the virtual modules, scenarios and establish what should students learn and do. His role in the classroom changes according to topic. Teacher is no longer the educator, but a facilitator who guides and answers questions while noting the manipulations and reactions of the learner.

Virtual reality therefore has the potential to revolutionize learning process. This versatile technology can make concrete even the most abstract concepts. However, we are still far from the moment when it will become common in classrooms, especially because technology, although more and more accessible, remains expensive.

In addition, it will teach the teachers how to build scenarios and virtual worlds. It will be interesting to follow this technology sector.

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