Virtual Reality Education: The Future is Now.
Technology Policy Brief #69 | By: Erik Pillar | February 24, 2022
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Virtual reality in the modern age sees increased potential for online learning and education amidst the continued Covid-19 pandemic.
A charter school in Florida, The Optima Classical Academy, recently announced its intention to offer a tuition-free full virtual reality learning environment to students starting August 10th, 2022. According to the school’s website, the curriculum will be based on a classical education format with a heavy emphasis on history, classical literature, and logical reasoning skills. When the school opens, classrooms will be offered for grades 3-8, with plans for high school years to be added in the future.
Students at Optima will spend four hours a day of schooling with a teacher in a virtual environment, and four hours of free learning time. Students will be able to learn through digital recreations of historical locations, such as the Oval Office in the White House, sites in Ancient Rome and other grand historical locales.
Those interested in enrolling can navigate to https://www.optimaclassical.org/prospective-families/enrollment/apply-for-lottery and sign up for a lottery to obtain a seat.
Scientists and experts in child development and learning are interested in the use of VR in education. Stanford University recently released a study called Accessibility of Educational Virtual Reality for Children during the COVID-19 Pandemic. The study aimed to answer several key questions related to children and virtual reality use, and education, during the pandemic. Overall, their findings support a high rating being given to the technology by parents who were interviewed. Those parents, who took part in the study, commonly reported that virtual reality technology was more engaging and stimulating to their children than other methods of schooling.
One parent said, “My daughter takes Russian in school, and she’s very interested in it… in the language, in the country, so I gave her Wander (A VR software to explore digital locations) and said, ‘Go to St. Petersburg or go to Moscow.’ And we would pass the headset back and forth and do that.”
The full study can be read at: https://stanfordvr.com/pubs/2022/accessibility-of-educational-virtual-reality-for-children-during-the-covid-19-pandemic/
Virtual Reality offers an alternative to real time learning in a Metaverse, a virtual universe of worlds, servers, all connected and accessible for users to travel and live within; an idea that has been explored in popular genre fiction both recently and in the past.
The original VR metaverse was in William Gibson’s 1984 novel titled Neuromancer. That novel focused less on educational prospects and more on the metaverse as being a world within a world, a place just as real as the physical, but not. More recently, the hit novel and film Ready Player One helped further popularize VR, including its use in schools. With the first full virtual realty school for children opening, we may see more VR classrooms should it prove to be a success.
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If VR based learning were to become accepted mainstream, the gap in quality education for many rural or densely populated metro families could be bridged. However, the cost of set up may be a barrier to schools serving low-income communities.
Windows Mixed Reality
There are three primary shippers of the technology. From video game platform giant Steam, we have the VIVE, Windows shows us their Windows Mixed Reality, and the company formerly known as Facebook -now Meta- sponsors the OCULUS.
The three current primary headsets for Vive are the HTC VIVE PRO 2, the VIVE FOCUS 3, and the VIVE FLOW.
The PRO 2 is a powerhouse of technology offering 5k resolution with an increased field of view and advancements in the technology to eliminate most graphical fidelity problems from previous versions. Notably for gamers is that the PRO 2 offers full 120 Hz refresh rate, a near must to avoid motion sickness in fast paced gaming. The PRO 2 hits a high price though, with all additions included, of $1399 USD.
The VIVE FOCUS 3 brings most of the power of the PRO 2 but is marketed for businesses or training simulations and is less made for gaming. As such, some of the comforts of the PRO are missing or lessened, such as a lesser refresh rate. It makes up for what it is missing in having more advanced tracking software, hand tracking, not only motion controller, and it offers the possibility of wireless use. At the high end, the FOCUS 3 will cost up to $1300 USD.
Further differences between the PRO 2 and FOCUS 3 can be found in an excellent comparison chart at: https://versus.com/en/htc-vive-focus-3-vs-htc-vive-pro-2
The VIVE FLOW is tailored for more casual users. Flow has a much smaller resolution than either previous option, a lesser refresh rate, and a smaller field of view. It is much lighter however, is run right off your phone, and by default comes with a wireless option. The FLOW is made for those seeking VR experiences, such as meditation, yoga, movie watching, and other such less graphic intensive uses. The FLOW comes in cheapest of the VIVE headsets at a high of $499 USD.
Meta’s The QUEST 2 can be used with a PC or without, wireless at a diminished compacity, comes with the Quest Touch motion controllers, and is designed for a minimalist appeal. QUEST 2 runs at slightly less than true HD 4K resolution and comes with a max of 90 Hz refresh rate. The QUEST 2 will run up to $299 USD for its full bundle.
Windows Mixed Reality is Microsoft’s stab into the VR market. Mixed Reality is no different from VR, the change in name is only for branding purposes. The two primary options for Mixed Reality are the SAMSUNG ODYSSEY+ and the HP REVERB.
The ODYSSEY+ comes with a less than true HD 4K resolution, a 90 Hz Refresh rate, and proprietary screen technology to cut down on graphical issues and to improve the performance of the machine beyond its base specs. It comes with built in headphones and sports a wide range of adjustment and fit options, including interpupillary distance dials to physically move the screens to exactly fit your eye placement. The ODYSSEY+ is designed to not require any external tracking stations, comes with Samsung motion controllers, and will run up to $399 USD.