360º Virtual Reality & Augmented Reality for Academic Education
Virtual Reality (VR) – enables you to virtually visit a different place, or experience a situation from someone else’s perspective. It gives learners a sens of presence and can affect them emotionally. Aspects that are often difficult to obtain in a traditional classroom setting.
Augmented Reality (AR) is an interactive experience of a real-world environment whereby the object that reside in the real-world are ‘augmented’ by computer-generated images1.
It is quite a few years ago since I first have tried VR. Apart from the fact that I got really nauseous I remember being thrilled of stepping into a different world in this particular way. It also felt a bit dissociating being able to still feel, but not see the rest of my body. Over the years I have seen some interesting VR projects emerge, from curing phobia by exposure, to experiencing a refugee’s travel and trying out some VR games at home. But going to the Think Outside the Books event of the Leiden University Medical Centre (LUMC) and Centre for Innovation (C4I) also of Leiden University, I would never have guessed the versatility of the possibilities of AR and VR presented there.
I learned that what makes VR particularly useful for stepping into the emotional perspective of another is the fact that the brain registers the experience different compared to video or talk. You become immerged in the experience – which helps to rebuilt and understand feelings of claustrophobia. For example increasing empathy and awareness amongst violent actors in Uganda with VR, or learning what it may feel like to have a schizophrenic psychosis.
AR use cases on the other hand are fit for first-year anatomy classes, since you can walk around a ‘floating’ joint that moves when you move, and can be dissected and assembled as you like – and then still move. Or when you can listen to breathing sounds belonging to several diseases by placing a digital stethoscope to digital lungs. The analogue version of this practice is difficult in a class full of young healthy students.
To be fair, few of these things will ever be a substitute for real life experience. It can, however, create a safe environment for beginning students, where they can practice without harming themselves, or their environment.
All of this sounds very positive. Can there be a flaw? Even usual critique of physical consequences of digital solutions seemed to be dismissed when I was told that a) it is less harmful for the eyes, since they accommodate (relax) to VR and AR as if the image really is far away, and b) particularly in the case of AR, instead of sitting behind a desk, you are encouraged to walk around a subject and actually move.
At the event it became very clear that AR and VR technology are still facing many child diseases and high production costs. Nevertheless, I was positively surprised by what use cases already are being researched and I am very curious to learn what the future of AR and VR holds.