on July 8th, 2021

For Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) students and professionals, virtual reality (VR) allows for engaging and realistic first-person immersion. Leading companies and organizations are beginning to use the technology in education and training to connect knowledge with experience.

Photo by XR Expo on Unsplash

A Learning Analytics Theoretical Framework for STEM Education Virtual Reality Applications concluded that skill development in the 21st century is dependent on digital-oriented training and tools for increasing learning performance.

Education relies on appropriate learning activities, which is now including VR, to shape the capacity of future professionals. The fact that VR is safe, interactive, and engaging means that it has attracted interest in the STEM field for years, and is constantly expanding.

In the era of digital devices, we have an opportunity to enable better learning with technology and VR seems to be the natural next step for the evolution of education. VR experiences will inspire a whole new generation of young and bright students, ready to innovate and change the world.

VR in Education: A Short History

While VR is yet to be fully embraced throughout the entire education spectrum, there have been steps to implement it since 1966.

A Systematic Review of Virtual Reality in Education looked back at the application of VR in education and believes that the first example of VR systems being employed in education was by the American Airforce with flight simulators.

After 1966, although often limited to the private sector, companies like SEGA and Nintendo followed in suit and released VR education towards the later half of the 1990s. However it wasn’t until computers began more popular and advanced, did technology really begin to be embraced for its potential in education.

Outside of higher education, museums became one of the main industries to use VR to bring displays and history to life.

According to Virtual Reality in Museums: Exploring the experiences of Museum Professionals, the alternative delivery module and the customization of VR for museums has made it a valuable tool in visitor participation.

But, with all the advantages of VR in the museum environment, there are still several challenges. While VR can effectively allow narratives or museum-goers to explore bygone eras, many museums since 2015 have turned to Augmented Reality (AR) because within the museum space it has fewer limitations.

According to the paper, AR offers museums more engagement, because the technologies are still connected to the museum's space. Scanning a QR code could for instance bring a painting in an art museum alive within the museum space, while traditional VR technologies would immerse people in experiences where they “leave” the museum.

But in education, what can be achieved with VR is different.

Training and Simulation

Where VR is most effective is in providing digital spaces for training. Work and training scenarios are able to be simulated and students can still gain all educational benefits. A Systematic Review of Virtual Reality in Education breaks down the positive aspects of VR in education.

Simulation

VR is the reigning champion for creating lifelike simulations, especially if there is a component of danger in the real world, or simply a financial shortfall.

International travel might be unlikely for most high school students, but VR provides school governing bodies with the opportunity to allow young students to explore the world, interact with ancient cities or famous landmarks, and get important educational benefits.

Flight attendants can receive disaster management training, which is valuable in helping them prepare for the rare case of real-life emergency. Real-world simulations still have too many variables, whereas VR simulations allow those participating to focus on the right outcomes.

Training

The transfer of skills is what education is all about, and VR still has boundless practical value.

Common training could include pilot training through flight simulators, or in the medical field. While training to perform surgery seems every day now, VR can also be used to create other scenarios like rehabilitation. One such training software that exists is a virtual classroom that facilitates the rehabilitation of children with attention deficit disorders.

VR can also be useful for patients, or people with disabilities. People with cerebral palsy for instance could find great benefit in VR as a motivational tool, and the VR already exists in aiding those people to receive beneficial training in everyday life.

The Digital Experience at EIT

EIT offers remote labs, virtual labs and simulation software to allow students the opportunity to interact with the skills they are learning in class.  

EIT Student Using Computer

The practical learning experience at EIT plays a major role in how we delivery quality education for engineers. Because these labs can be individualized for specific needs they play a great role. But what are they?

EIT’s lab hosting platform, Electromeet, connects students with lab computers in real-time. Once connected, students have access to a wide range of engineering software and hardware that can be used in assessments throughout an EIT program.

Students can explore science education, model construction, design and drafting, industrial process control, and a plethora of valuable engineering practices. Online students have practical assessments that are interactive and controllable via webcam technology where students get to flex their knowledge in physical experimentation, robotic automation, and systems and machinery.

EIT remote and virtual labs are hosted primarily in Perth, Australia, but there are also additional labs in South Africa and the United Kingdom. Students can digitally book times to use the labs and then remotely do their required work and gain practical knowledge.

The Importance of VR

For distance learning VR is invaluable. A Systematic Review of Virtual Reality in Education looked at a variety of papers and the potential of VR in online education.

The global COVID19 outbreak showed how VR implementations allow education to proceed, regardless of the circumstance or where students find themselves. Because VR simulates real-world experiences, students have access to greater learning materials and resources.

Students often desire campus-like experiences, and VR provides that. From interactive classrooms to libraries, VR provides those essential student experiences.

It can also go further.

For instance, VR can be used in conjunction with sensors that track kinetic motion. Physical trainers can then track client’s activities, or if they are athletically training as they should. VR can also provide specific landscapes and physical training environments for athletes. In 2021 this equates to safety amidst an airborne pandemic, while having most of the benefits of training outside.

A recent survey of teachers concluded that educators believe VR will increase student learning, and there is a high likelihood that it would increase class attendance. It is no wonder then that the VR in the education industry will have a $700 million value by 2025 according to the NGO eStudent.

References

eStudent, 2020. VR in education: A complete guide. [online] Available at: www.e-student.org/virtual-reality-in-education/ [Accessed 3 July]

Kavanagh, S., Luxton-Reilly, A., Wuensche, B., & Plimmer, B. (2017). A systematic review of Virtual Reality in education. Themes in Science and Technology Education, 10(2), 85-119.

Shehade, Maria & Stylianou-Lambert, Theopisti. (2020). Virtual Reality in Museums: Exploring the Experiences of Museum Professionals. Applied Sciences. 10. 4031. 10.3390/app10114031.

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