Creating a Virtual Reality Lab: Using a Student-Centered Approach

Creating a Virtual Reality Lab: Using a Student-Centered Approach

Benjamin Zibers, Judi Simmons Estes
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-7998-4960-5.ch007
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Use of virtual reality (VR) has increased in higher education in recent years and is projected to continue to increase. At the same time, there is a growing emphasis for institutions of higher education to re-envision learning spaces and teaching strategies that are student-centered rather than faculty centered. Use of VR, by faculty, requires a new pedagogy of teaching as well as a willingness to explore the use of an unknown technology in delivering curriculum. Having access to a technology lab that uses VR can be a welcomed support for faculty. VR can be expensive and creating a VR lab may not seem doable in settings other than large, well-funded universities. This chapter describes a technology lab that was established at a small Midwest liberal arts university, funded by a student technology fee and created by a student-led technology committee.
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“There is no reason why the objects displayed by a computer have to follow the ordinary rules of physical reality with which we are familiar” (Sutherland, 1965, para. 13). And so it began. Some fifty-five years later we find technology integrated into our personal, professional, and social lives in ways that were unimaginable in 1965. The advent of VR has certainly ushered in a new technology medium. While Helig (1962), a cinematographer, has been identified as the “father of virtual reality,” VR did not become known as a research field until the late 1980’s. Sherman and Craig (2003) defined VR as “a medium composed of interactive computer simulation that senses the participant’s position and actions and replaces or augments the feedback to one or more senses, giving the feeling of being mentally immersed or present in the simulation (a virtual world)” (p. 13). Kapp and O’Driscoll (2010) defined a virtual world as an “immersed 3D virtual environment in which a learner acts through an avatar to engage with the other avatars for the explicit purpose of learning” (p. 55). LaValle (2019, p. 2) defined VR as “Inducing targeted behavior in an organism by using artificial sensory stimulation, while the organism has little or no awareness of the interference.”

The environment created through VR is referred to as a virtual world (VW) or virtual world environment (VWE). Simply, a VWE is an artificial physical environment created using digital technology viewed two-dimensionally (2D); a complex three-dimensional (3D) environment contains digital objects and human avatars in real-time. Virtual world learning environments (VWLE’s) can accommodate a wider range of learning styles and goals, encourage collaborative and resource-based learning and allow greater sharing and re-use of resources (Britain, 1999). These VR environments are used to support multiple learning styles and encourage collaborative exchange, social learning, which evolved when innovators of VR noticed that users were responsive to the collaborative community.

Key Terms in this Chapter

Student Engagement: Student engagement involves active participation, critical thinking, synthesis, and application of content to real-life experiences. Highly engaged students tend to feel a connection to the process of learning, to their peers, and to the institutions of higher education in which they are enrolled.

Student-centered Learning: Student-centered learning is a pedagogy of teaching and learning that views the teacher as a co-facilitator with students in an active and engaging learning process. Student-centered learning is also discussed as a constructivist approach to teaching and learning, active learning and/or problem-solving.

Technology Lab: The Tech Lab discussed in this chapter was an interactive environment for creating and conducting simulated experiments, a type of playground for experimentation. The majority of focus, chosen by students, involved VR.

Technology Integration: Technology integration refers to a process of choosing and using specific technology tools to enhance the teaching and learning process.

Student Services: Student Services is a department of a institutions of higher education that provides supports for student success and enhance student growth and development.

HTC: In partnership with the gaming company, Valve, is a Taiwanese-based maker of the Vive headset (and its variations).

Pedagogy: The method and practice of teaching aligned with a certain set of beliefs about how students best learn.

Pedagogical Content Knowledge: A combination of content and teaching knowledge.

Oculus: Oculus is owned by Facebook and has been credited with “brining back VR” in 2012 after a successful Kickstarter campaign.

Authentic Learning Environment: A teaching environment that uses an instructional approach that allows students to explore, discuss, and meaningfully construct concepts and relationships in contexts that involve real-world problems and projects that are relevant to the learner.

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