Virtual Reality Classroom
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With the advent of consumer virtual reality just around the corner, will it bring forth an evolution in the way we learn?

Facebook's Oculus only days ago announced the consumer version of the Oculus Rift, along with Sony recently also announcing the release of the Morpheus VR headset for 2016 as well, we are not far now from having these devices in our own homes, offices and schools.

Zookal's co-founder, Chris Zaharia, has obtained several devices to investigate some of the ways virtual reality can be applied in education.

‘I’m seeing a lot of people investing in virtual reality for gaming, but few are investing in it for education.’ Chris envisages virtual reality being used to supplement things like online courses, which are by nature very theoretical. There’s not much practical hands-on experience to be gained when studying online.

In one of Chris’ online videos, he demonstrates how mind control and motion tracking in virtual reality could have practical applications in the fields of medicine and education.

You could use technologies like virtual reality to teach people things in a more practical way, and also in a more immersive way,’ said Chris. ‘It feels like you’re actually there, talking to the lecturer, talking to the students. You could do chemistry experiments, using your hands, or perform surgery on someone. The kind of things it’s hard to teach just in theory.’

‘I’ve built some prototypes where people can move around in a virtual environment just by thinking. It will probably apply more to gaming right now, but even in education you can use that kind of technology. It can read different types of brainwaves, so if people are getting frustrated, you can adjust the learning to make it easier, or if people are getting bored you can adjust the learning to make it more challenging. It’s more adaptive learning, it uses those devices to adjust learning to the individual based on their level.’

It’s more practical learning, it’s more tailored learning, and it could be more accessible learning, allowing people in remote areas to join in with classes even if physically being there is difficult. Online courses are already providing distance learning, but in a solitary and theoretical way. These new technologies could become cheap enough to provide a more immersive learning experience on a mass level.

‘To start with it would probably be universities investing in these devices and putting them in labs around the university, as they’re still pretty expensive,’ Chris mused on future practicalities. ‘Until it reaches the stage where these devices are around $200 or $100, when individuals could start buying them. People will probably start buying them for gaming first, but they’ll have it in their house and they could start using it for education as well.’

The possibilities are quite literally endless. You could use Google Glass and augmented reality in lectures, having the notes appear before you automatically as the lecturer speaks. You could have remote tutoring, seeing a tutor in front of you even though he’s not actually there.

‘Maybe as you’re writing a quiz you could just look at it and the lecturer could start marking it right away. Or maybe AI could do it automatically,’ Chris laughed.

Most of this is way, way in the future. But technology is becoming more advanced and more available, and the ways we can harness it to develop and enhance the way we learn are limitless.