“Gear up and dive in--we’re headed into the ocean to explore living coral!” An instructor and 12 eager marine biology students get ready for their next learning adventure. These students aren’t climbing into wetsuits and donning snorkel gear. Rather, each puts on a headset and--with a few clicks--all are “swimming” around an ocean reef. They look up, down, turn completely around and move through the reef. It’s a virtual field trip. Virtual reality (VR) has come to their classroom, and it takes students out of the classroom to places and experiences that wouldn’t otherwise be accessible.
The use and development of technologies like VR and augmented reality (AR) are growing fast. Around the world, billions of dollars are being invested in the development of these immersive tools. It’s projected to be a trillion dollar industry by 2035. And these tools are not just being used for entertainment and gaming. VR and AR tools are currently being used in multiple industries for training and workforce development. It is widely viewed as revolutionary when it comes to learning.
The biggest reason these immersive tools hold so much promise is that they can deepen the learning experience in profound ways through the creation of engaging, novel and interactive learning environments. This is particularly applicable in STEM education. Imagine going on a field trip almost anywhere in the world--into the solar system, the human body, or cells, molecules and atoms. VR, whether created with video or rendered through programming, provides the opportunity for experiences that would be impossible to have in the real world. Users interact with the VR environment through body movement, making them highly compelling, connected and memorable experiences.
While VR can take you anywhere, augmented reality overlays digital information onto a view of our environment. This digital content is anchored to, and interacts with, the real world. Consider holograms, a game like Pokemon Go, or an app like Google Translate; these are examples of AR. Augmented reality is most often experienced via our mobile devices.
Most current students live in a world where they are constantly sharing and participating in experiences that are interconnected and technology-mediated, such as through mobile devices, gaming, social media. Higher education and K-12 are exploring how to integrate these new immersive learning tools into the classroom. At Saturday Academy we’re investigating how virtual and augmented reality tools might enrich the experience of hands-on STEM learning - both as a way to experience learning content, and as tools with which to create.
Portland has become a center for immersive technology through the efforts of developers, tech companies, and area colleges and universities. This has resulted in an incredibly creative, cooperative and collaborative culture that Saturday Academy has begun to tap into. Portland Community College, Pacific Northwest College of Art (PNCA), the University of Oregon, and Concordia University are just a few of the higher ed institutions that have invested in using VR and/or teaching VR production. In the classroom, in collaboration with University of Portland’s School of Education, Saturday Academy is currently investigating the use of VR as a learning tool through the incorporation of Google Expeditions into a few select classes and camps this summer.
Saturday Academy also offers classes in the programming and production tools used to build VR and AR applications and environments, including our tried-and-true Virtual Reality Worlds class as well as our two new classes in collaboration with Open Signal, Dreaming in VR (grades 6 - 8) and Infinitely Possible (grades 9 - 12). Additional classes cover Unity, the programming language commonly used to create virtual reality, including 3D Game Creation Camp and Game Creation with Unity & C#.
For further exploration, here are few VR/AR resource links:
Making Virtual Reality a Reality in Today's Classrooms
People Recall Information Better Through Virtual Reality
Virtual-reality applications give science a new dimension
Bringing virtual and augmented reality to school | Google for Education
Oregon Project Uses Holograms To Transform The Classroom
Design Reality: Portland’s Premier Immersive Tech Community