Virtual Reality, Augmented Reality, and Mixed Reality in Education: A Brief Overview

Virtual Reality, Augmented Reality, and Mixed Reality in Education: A Brief Overview

Nicoletta Sala (Institute for Complexity Studies, Italy & Institute for Scientific and Interdisciplinary Studies (ISSI), Switzerland)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-7998-4960-5.ch003
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Virtual reality (VR), augmented reality (AR), and mixed reality (MR) are three different technologies developed in the last decades of the 20th century. They combine hardware and software solutions. They permit the creation of three-dimensional (3D) virtual worlds and virtual objects. This chapter describes how VR, MR, and AR technologies find positive application fields in educational environments. They support different learning styles, offering potential help in teaching and in learning paths.
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Virtual Reality

In the 19th century, formal education was based on lectures and recitations. The Swiss pedagogues Johann Heinrich Pestalozzi (1746-1827) was one of the first that studied what is commonly known as “hands-on learning”. He observed that students learn best through physical activity and if they use their senses (Pestalozzi, 1803). Nowadays, modern educational environments find in the new technologies a way to improve the learning paths. For example, VR, AR, and MR can stimulate the senses of the students, involving them in learning activities.

In 1987, Yaakov Garb used the term “virtual reality” as title of a paper. VR is the capability to represent the world with visual symbols (Garb, 1987). Garb’s point of view is far from computer technology. While Garb used the term ‘virtual reality’ as the title of a paper on 1987, the term was used to represent the world with visual symbols. It was two years later when Lanier used the term specific to the world of computer technology (Lanier, 1989). He referred the term to the world of computers: VR exists only as an electronic image, without any connection with the real world. As Krueger (1991) stated, “The term therefore typically refers to three-dimensional (3D) realities implemented with stereo viewing goggles and reality gloves” (p. xiii). VR is a technology which involves information technology, computer graphics and electronics, and it gives its users the illusion of being immersed in a computer-generated virtual world with the ability to interact with it. VR has also been defined as an experience in which the users are immersed in a responsive virtual world. This implies users’ dynamic control of viewpoints. (Brooks, 1999).

Burdea and Coiffet (2003) describe VR as a simulation in which computer graphics are used to create a realistic-looking world. The synthetic world is dynamic, responding to the user's input (gesture, verbal command, etc.). This introduces the real-time interactivity, which is a key feature of this technology, but computer science evolution requires a new definition of VR. More recently, the Encyclopædia Britannica (2019) describes VR as a technology that permits the use of modeling and computer simulation, where a person can interact with a sensory environment or with an artificial three-dimensional visual environment.

In 1997, Rosenblum & Cross define the three primary requirements of a VR system. They are:

  • Immersion refers to a realistic feeling that allows users to have exposure to a virtual environment. The perception is created surrounding the user by the VR technologies and by its devices (e.g., data gloves, head mounted display, sound or other sensorial stimuli), that provide an engrossing total environment (Wu et al., 2015). Immersion requires physically involving the user, both by capturing exclusive visual attention and by transparently responding to 3D input, through use of devices such as a head-tracker, 3D mouse, wand, data glove, or fully instrumented body suit;

  • Interaction is a kind of action that occurs as two or more objects have an effect upon one another. In VR what is realized through the 3D control devices to investigate and control the virtual environment; and

  • Visual realism provides an accurate representation of the virtual world using computer graphics tools.

Immersion is a feature of VR and MR. characterized by different degrees of user involvement.

It is a unique experience that is connected with the real world and the virtuality. Astheimer et al. (1994) define immersion as the feeling of a user, that his virtual environment is real. In a 2004 paper titled Postmodernism and the Three Types of Immersion, Adams presented three main categories of immersion: tactical, strategic, and narrative. Tactical immersion gives the users the experience that they are accurately performing actions in the virtual world with convincing feedback. Strategic immersion is associated with mental challenge. Narrative immersion occurs when users become invested in a story, and is similar to what is experienced while reading a book or watching a movie. Björk and Holopainen (2004), divide immersion into three similar categories, but they call them: sensory-motoric immersion, cognitive immersion, and emotional immersion, respectively. In addition, they also add a new category named spatial immersion that occurs when a user feels the simulated world is perceptually convincing (Björk & Holopainen, 2004).

Interaction refers to the natural interaction between the users and the virtual scenes. VR, AR, and MR systems involve interface hardware components. For VR they consist of:

  • The input devices which report, in real time, the position and the movements of the users in the virtual worlds. Input devices permit users to give electrical signals to the computer that can be transformed as specific commands. Input devices can include gloves, trackers, keyboards, and mouse (2D or 3D);

  • The output devices (visual, aural, and haptic) give the users the illusion to be immersed in the virtual environments. For example, the visual display, which is an output tool, is a kind of helmet that places a television-like screen over each eye, blocking one’s view of the physical world. Instead, of the physical world, one sees a 3D rendition of a place created by computer graphics workstation.

  • The graphic rendering system generates the virtual scenarios and the virtual environments; and

  • The database construction and virtual object modelling software realize virtual scenarios and detailed and realistic models of the virtual world. In particular, the software handles the geometry, texture, intelligent behavior, and physical modelling of any object included in the virtual world.

Visual realism refers on the ability of VR to create an immersive 3D spatial experience when the user perceives that is to a virtual world (for example, being a player in a videogame). This is affected by the perceived feeling of artificiality and transportation (Benford et al., 1998). To be credible, this perception requires different interactions which should be in real-time (Riva, 2006). For example, the user requires instant feedback of his movements, position, and sensations (Martín-Gutiérrez et al., 2017).

More recently, visual realism was defined as the extent to which an image appears to people as a photo rather than generated by computer (Fan et al., 2017).

Key Terms in this Chapter

Mixed Reality: Is the merging of virtual and real worlds to produce new environments and new kinds of visualizations, where digital and physical objects co-exist and interact together in real time. The two worlds are “mixed” together to create a realistic environment. A user can navigate this environment and interact with both real and virtual objects.

Robotics: Is a branch of technology that deals with the design, construction, operation, and application of robots.

Uses and Gratification Theory (UGT): Is an approach to understand why and how people actively seek out specific media to satisfy specific needs.

Avatar: It is the graphical representation of the user or the user's alter ego in a virtual world. The word derives from Hindu mythology, and it represents the descent of a deity to the earth in an incarnate form or some manifest shape.

Inquiry-Based Learning (IBL): It is a form of active learning where students are given a carefully scaffolded sequence of tasks and are asked to solve and make sense of them, working individually or in groups.

Edutainment: Educational entertainment is medium which educates through entertainment. The term was coined by Walt Disney, in 1954.

Immersion: In virtual reality, immersion is a perception of being physically present in a non-physical world. The perception is created surrounding the user by the virtual reality technologies and by its devices, for example data gloves, head mounted display, sound, or other sensorial stimuli, that provide an engrossing total environment.

Virtual Prototyping (VP): The construction and testing of a virtual prototype is called virtual prototyping. It is a computer simulation of a physical product.

Interaction: Into virtual reality, interaction is often described as the ability of the user to move within the virtual world and to interact with the objects of the virtual world. If the user can explore the virtual world and move objects within the interactive environment.

Virtual Reality (VR): The term was coined in 1989, by American writer and computer scientist Jaron Zepel Lanier. It is modern technology which gives its users the illusion of being immersed in a computer generated virtual world with the ability to interact with it.

Second Life®: Is one of the most popular online virtual worlds. It was developed by San Francisco-based Linden Lab and launched on June 23, 2003. The Second Life users are also called “residents”.

Virtual Reality Systems: Set of hardware and software components which permit to realize a virtual reality environment.

Virtual World: It is a computer-based simulated environment where the users can interact via alter ego in the computer representation in real time with different devices, for example head mounted displays, and data gloves.

Gamification: It is the application of game principles and game-design elements in non-game contexts. For example, in the educational environment.

Augmented Reality: It is a direct or indirect view of a real-world environment whose elements are augmented (or supplemented) by computer-generated sensory input such as graphics, sound, and video. For example, the user’s view of the world is supplemented with virtual objects, usually to provide information about the real environment. Augmentation is in real-time.

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