VR is an emerging technology that has demonstrated potential as a dynamic and effective teaching tool. Researchers at the University of Washington's state-of-the-art Human Interface Technology Laboratory (HITL) Learning Center have been at the forefront of exploring the use of VR in education. In 1995, for example, almost 3,000 students in grades four to twelve experienced VR in the classroom, and another 365 built their own virtual environments (VEs). Preliminary results indicate that students can learn curriculum content through this experiential process and are highly motivated to do so.
Make no mistake, virtual reality is on its way into our public schools. The number of articles about VR in educational journals is increasing by leaps and bounds. Workshops and symposia on VR at local and national education conferences are becoming commonplace. Those who work in universities to develop and assess VR applications for schools can meet only a fraction of the requests for information, visits, talks, demonstrations and collaborative projects. At the same time, the cost of what were once prohibitively expensive VR workstations is coming down to the point where schools can begin to afford them. And non-immersive applications that run on computers that schools already have are becoming more useful.
Virtual Reality allows us to learn through experiencing places we are not able to visit in the real world. Perhaps the place is too small for us to see, too large for us to see all at once, or too expensive or too far to travel to. Virtual Reality lets us move things that are too heavy, too light or too expensive to move in the real world. Virtual Reality also lets us visit places at different time periods that we could not experience in one lifetime. For example, we could build a VE that allows us to visit our earth today and then travel back in time and visit it 100 million years ago. See the topic, Other Worlds to Explore that Teach, for example worlds that take advantage of these capabilities of virtual reality.
Virtual Reality allows us to experience a body of knowledge interactively. This is a major distinction from other visual technologies: film,television, and photography. Students learn while they are situated in the context where what they learn is to be applied. They get immediate feedback as they explore their understanding of the material.
Of course, Virtual Reality is also a place for creative expression. We can create a world that does not exist. We can build things without using natural resources. We can create art. We can see music. We can express our imagination. We can generate and communicate our ideas visually.
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