Virtual Learning: A Study of Virtual Reality for Distance Education

Virtual Learning: A Study of Virtual Reality for Distance Education

Jennifer L. Penland (Sul Ross State University, USA), Kennard Laviers (Sul Ross State University, USA), Elbert Bassham (Sul Ross State University, USA) and Victor Nnochiri (Sul Ross State University, USA)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-5225-5557-5.ch009


Virtual reality (VR) is now becoming a major player in education. When first introduced into schools, computer technology and multi-media content were riveted by its newness. Over time, more higher education institutions began to use newer technologies online or distance classes that could be taken from home. Unfortunately, many students have difficulty acquiring the same experience when learning with most classroom management software (CMS). Virtual reality technology is taking user involvement to the next level of immersion and is postured to change the landscape of education in a very significant way. This chapter examines methods of employing VR to maximize benefits to the student as well as the challenges and opportunities for using VR for distance learning. Finally, emerging research and developments in VR is discussed.
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Education is changing as rapidly as the technology we use to teach with. Since the early days of the internet, we quickly realized it was possible for post-secondary students to learn remotely with little face-to-face interactions with the instructor. There are a host of reasons that will be discussed in this chapter and one can argue that we now have the means to change–our instructional design. A new generation of technology that includes Virtual Reality provides, possibly for the first time, a means of allowing students to truly experience community and interactive presence in remote classroom lessons. Technology comes in the form of the first generation of virtual reality devices that are becoming more and more mainstream (Willer, 2017).

Virtual Reality

In 1993, arguably before we had a clear idea of how VR would develop, researchers were already trying to understand what exactly VR was and the role it might play in our society. Steuer (1993) claimed that VR is more than the technology that is used to provide “the experience” and that it is better to define the VR experience instead. We adopt this policy in this paper and do not focus on the technology but rather the “virtual educational experience” that the current technology provides that include visual and audio along with the immersive experience of movement tracking and haptic feedback. This experience is significantly more immersive than what is currently possible with today’s CMS applications used in most distance learning institutions.

Classroom Management Software (CMS)

Probably the most widely used CMS package today is the Blackboard suite. Blackboard allows instructors to load course content in the form of Power Point slides, videos and other types of media. While we can argue that VR is new and much more immersive, we should also note that VR would only replace the media of the educational content, not the management portion of today’s CMS solutions. One would expect to log into Blackboard, read an assignment, then click a link to startup the VR lecture or class meeting.

Key Terms in this Chapter

Transformational Learning Theory: Described as being constructivist, an orientation which holds that the way learners interpret and reinterpret their sense experience is, central to making meaning and hence learning.

Collaborative Learning: An educational approach to teaching and learning that focuses on groups of students working together to solve a problem, complete a task, and/or create a product.

Self-Directed Learning: A process in which students take the initiative to diagnose their learning needs, formulate learning goals, and manage their learning activities.

Classroom Management Software: Software used by instructors and students to manage the delivery of course lectures and content. Typically, teachers will provide weekly content and slides for students to review as well as assignments and test via the online CMS. A very common CMS package is the Blackboard application.

Virtual Classroom: A classroom in the VR space where geographically separated users can visit each other. This allows an instructor and students to see and interact with each other virtually in real time.

Interactive Presence: The feeling that the student is present with the other students and instructor in the class and can easily and intuitively interact with classmates and the teacher.

E-Learning: Education via the internet, network or a blended combination that enables the transfer of knowledge and skills.

Distance Education: A mode of delivering education and instruction to students who are not physically present in a traditional classroom setting.

Virtual Reality: A simulation of a three-dimensional environment that places a user in the simulated space by the use of a mask or headset that projects a virtual scene around them and carefully follows the movements of the user. This is separate from augmented reality where an image is anchored on top of the real world and the user views the mix of both the real world and the simulated world (sometimes called mixed reality). In the virtual reality, the user cannot see any of the real world.

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