Bringing the world to the classroom

Hollywood has long predicted virtual reality. Tron, Hackers and The Matrix are just some of the movies featuring the technology that is now all the rage.

Here at Douglas, Earth and Environmental Sciences instructor Derek Turner started building virtual reality (VR) goggles while doing his post-doctoral degree at UBC. Now he’s using VR with his students.

“A big part of earth and environmental sciences is getting students outside,” he says. “But it’s getting harder and harder to do that. It costs more, as there are logistics and liability issues.”

So, Derek decided to use VR as a way of bringing the field trip to the students.

“We got a $50,000 grant thanks to BC Campus for the project, so we were able to buy equipment, and I developed a few field trips,” he says.

In fact, he revamped a Sea to Sky field trip he developed at UBC and uses it with his students. Derek has also developed a Stanley Park trip.

So why not just use mass-market VR goggles, such as Google VR glasses? They are readily available and a lot cheaper to buy. But Derek points out there’s a huge difference in the user experience.

The high-end technology places the user in the simulation. If the simulation is of snowboarding, you would feel like you’re snowboarding. If you turn your head, the video turns as well, making you feel as if you are on that mountain, looking around. The lower-end goggles don’t deliver this feeling of realness.

“Some glasses deal with climate change and it’s an amazing way to see someone take an ice core from a glacier, but the quality of the video and simulation is not the same as the higher-end technology.”

Will VR one day replace physical classrooms? Derek says while some people might think classes will one day be conducted through VR, it’s not the same as being there in-person.

“People learn better when they’re in the classroom discussing and interacting.”

 

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