Virtualization of Laboratories: Student and Professor Opinions

Virtualization of Laboratories: Student and Professor Opinions

Diego Vergara, Pablo Fernández-Arias, Jamil Extremera, Álvaro Antón-Sancho
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-6684-3398-0.ch009
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The use of virtual reality (VR) in the educational sector has increased considerably in the last decade, especially for its direct application in the development of virtual laboratories (VL) that, since the appearance of COVID-19, are being more demanded by universities. Therefore, knowing the opinion of students and professors about VR is essential for VR-based applications to be designed in an appropriate way and to be efficient at an educational level. In this sense, the results of this study, which analyzes the opinion of 420 engineering students and 44 engineering professors, can help future professors or software programmers in general to design VR-based educational resources in an appropriate way and in particular to better design their VLs.
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New technologies have transformed the world since the end of the 20th century, accelerating the radical change in society and the economy, which these first two decades of the 21st century have identified. An example of this change is the many tasks that were performed manually in the past that have been automated in recent years. And as a result, the labor landscape of today’s society has been profoundly altered. Another example of how new technologies have differentiated today’s society from that of the 20th century is in the scenario that originated from the COVID-19 pandemic. Indeed, since the pandemic was declared, the use of new technologies has allowed a large part of the economic sectors to continue their activity in a relatively normal and safe way, thanks to remote work. That is, teleworking has been promoted. Currently, most of society uses information and communication technologies (ICT) daily, making a new way of life and social behavior.

Thus, most remote personal communications are carried out through instant messaging services, which is a change from what happened just 30 years ago when the most common communication method was phone calls. In the same way, electronic mail has almost completely replaced postal mail (both in the personal sphere and between institutions or companies); the creation and sharing of images and videos have displaced much of the information that was once shared through text; social networks have created a new concept of the relationship between people from all over the world; etc. Such is the influence of ICTs on society that two new adjectives emerge to define people (Prensky, 2016): (i) digital natives, who are those individuals who were born with the ICT revolution already consolidated; and (ii) digital immigrants, who are those who were born before the ICT revolution began, and from a certain point in their life have had to update their knowledge and adapt their habits to this new reality. Even the first group of digital natives differentiates those who were born without the internet that we know today (millennials or generation Y) and those who were born with the current network of networks (internet generation or generation Z).

The education sector is no stranger to this ICT revolution, being today a sector in which digital transformation is an unstoppable event. In this way, instructors often implement new ICT-based methodologies in the classroom to capture the attention of the students and motivate them to study different subjects, regardless of educational level. In this sense, practical classes traditionally developed in laboratories (e.g., in which experiments are carried out) are moving to virtual worlds (Soliman et al., 2021).

Two of the most promising technologies with the best results when developing virtual laboratories (VLs) are: (i) virtual reality (VR); and (ii) augmented reality (AR). The so-called mixed reality (MR) is a set of technologies that combine VR and AR. Specifically, the MR user interacts with physical and virtual reality objects at the same time (Quint et al., 2015). In technical fields, MR allows, for example, to compare potential developments of a project with its current development, which, in turn, helps to locate problems in the progress of the project and to solve them, or to foresee the evolution of the project (Wu et al., 2018). Likewise, regarding its applicability in educational environments, the literature does not find significant differences between the academic use of VR and MR, although VR is interpreted as a more natural environment for learning than MR (Ergün et al., 2019).

Key Terms in this Chapter

Information and Communication Technologies (ICT): A set of technological resources used to create, transmit, exchange, or share information.

Real Laboratory: An environment that provides controlled conditions to carry out scientific or technological testing.

Virtual Resource: Computer systems integrated in a computer-simulated environment.

Virtual Laboratory: Computer-simulated environment in which the conditions for experimentation typical of a conventional laboratory are recreated using generic or specific computer software.

Interactive Multimedia Application: A virtual tool that combines diverse content forms in an interactive way, such as audio, animation, text, or video.

Virtual Reality: A set of computer tools that enable the design of simulated environments that allow user interaction by means of appropriate digital devices.

Learning Environment: A physical or digital environment in which the teaching and learning process takes place.

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