Immersive Virtual Reality as a Tool for Education: A Case Study

Immersive Virtual Reality as a Tool for Education: A Case Study

Sara Ermini, Giulia Collodel, Alessandro Innocenti, Maurizio Masini, Elena Moretti, Vincenzo Santalucia
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-6684-4854-0.ch006
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After introducing the topic of education in immersive virtual reality (iVR), the authors describe the methodology and procedure used to test an educational game in virtual reality. The objective of this chapter is to contribute to the definition of a format for the evaluation of educational experiences in VR by describing the methodology adopted in the mentioned case study. A group of 30 students completed a lesson in virtual reality, and their experience was evaluated through qualitative (questionnaires, thinking aloud, interviews) and quantitative (task completion and time) tools. The results show some need for improvement of the simulation, but subjects were immersed in the experience and scored highly on the final assessment on understanding the educational content.
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The challenges posed by the Covid-19 health emergency have led the academic institutions to start an innovative process with the aim of using all the available digital technologies to support the quality of teaching, research, and student services (Baran, E., AlZoubi, D., 2020).

In this perspective, attention has been given to immersive Virtual Reality (iVR) technologies. The Digital Agenda for Europe, one of the seven pillars of the European 2020 Strategy, states that VR is an innovative tool that, thanks to its multisensory and immersive nature, can satisfy the principles of active learning. Immersive virtual experiences foster, in fact, the sense of presence and embodiment, both key factors that can promote learning (Wiewiorra, L., Godlovitch, I., 2021). The use of immersive devices, with different types and different grades of involvement, is gaining growing interest for university education, in which students can no longer be considered recipients who acquire knowledge passively (Makransky, G et al. 2019). VR offers three main opportunities: it can change the abstract into the tangible, supports “doing” rather than just observing, can substitute methods that are desirable but practically infeasible even, if possible, in reality (Slater M., Sanchez-Vives M.V., 2016). In particular, many pivotal processes important in the teaching of Biology, Health Sciences, Medicine, Pharmacy, Biotechnology and Languages (Hein, R., et. al. 2001-2020) degree courses are difficult to visualize and iVR simulations can support students for a deeper understanding and easy learning of concepts.

The digital game environment has become an important tool for education and training, and evidence-based theories can be increasingly found on the educational benefits of interactive digital games related to the improvement of general cognitive skills (Johnson-Glenberg, M.C., 2018; Mayer, R. E.,, 2002) and motivation towards the content of learning (Roussou M, 2004; Checa, D., Bustillo A., 2019; Yildirim, B.,, 2020). When games are compared to conventional media, there are no results that indicate that they are generally inferior to traditional education (Mayer, R. E.,, 2002); especially when we look at case studies in the field of health and nutrition education (Ferguson B., 2012), we can argue that games can be as effective or more effective than traditional education for certain areas and learning objectives (Fox, J., Bailenson, J.N., 2009 ; Mayer, R. E.,, 2002).

This paper intends to contribute to the definition of a human-centered approach (Hassenzahl, M., 2010; IDEO, 2014; ISO, 2010) for the use of iVR experiences in teaching (Johnson-Glenberg, M.C., 2018) by describing a pilot conducted at the University of Siena at the LabVR UNISI with the collaboration of the Department of Molecular and Developmental Medicine of the University of Siena to measure the validity and usability of the educational game Oxistress (Collodel, G., et. al., 2019). The topic is male fertility; in men, infertility is related to poor seminal quality, often due to the presence of inflammatory states and an increase in free radicals (ROS) that damage sperm membranes. The ability to modulate the inflammatory process and ROS formation with dietary, non-pharmacological treatments could be a desirable goal for improving male reproductive efficiency.

Key Terms in this Chapter

Education: The process of receiving or giving systematic instruction, especially at a school or university.

Sickness: The feeling or fact of being affected with nausea or vomiting.

Virtual Reality: The computer-generated simulation of a three-dimensional image or environment that can be interacted with in a seemingly real or physical way by a person using special electronic equipment, such as a helmet with a screen inside or gloves fitted with sensors.

Presence: The state or fact of existing, occurring, or being present.

Gamification: The application of typical elements of game playing to other areas of activity.

Classroom: A room in which a class of pupils or students is taught.

Digital Technologies: The branch of scientific or engineering knowledge that deals with the creation and practical use of digital or computerized devices, methods, systems.

Learning: The acquisition of knowledge or skills through study, experience, or being taught.

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