Virtual Realities

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1 Virtual Realities

Jason Lamb, Memorial University of Newfoundland

2 Definitions and background

Virtual Reality is a “technology that enables users to enter a world generated by a computer and allows them to interact with it through sight, sound, and touch” (North, Hill, Aikhuele, & North, 2003, p. 34). By creating a three-dimensional world, users are able to manipulate virtual objects in real-time via the use of computer systems that interface with a number of specialized peripheral devices. (Nadan, Alexandrov, Jamieson, & Watson, 2011).

Largely used in the fields of automotive/aerospace design, medical training, entertainment, and military training (Abulrub, Attridge, & Williams, 2011), Virtual Reality has also begun to find its way into many higher-education engineering programs (Abulrub et al., 2011). The use of Virtual Realities can also be found in gaming applications, and more specifically, interactive game-based learning solutions (Psotka, 2013).

Historically, Virtual Realities have been influenced by the development of television, 3D graphics, animation, display technology, human-computer interfaces, and remote control (Barker, 1993). The Virtual Realities also incorporate many of the principles of those individual technologies. The technology itself can conceptually trace its history back to the 1950s, with Morton Heilig’s Sensorama project which allowed users to participate in a 3D movie that reacted to riding a stationary bicycle (Barker, 1993).

3 Affordances

Abulrub et al. (2011) indicate that the use of Virtual Realities enhance the learning experience of students, as they provide the user with both realism and interactivity. When used in an application such as training engineers, it allows the instructors to recreate “various kinds of real-life engineering challenges that cannot be produced in traditional classroom or laboratory due to cost or health and safety” (Abulrub et al., 2011, p. 6).

By combining Multimedia with Virtual Reality, educators can successfully design learning environments where students feel more comfortable and focused (Sampaio, de Freitas, and Cardoso, 2009). This is due to the fact that data indicates that Virtual Reality can ease communication apprehension in a classroom environment (North et al., 2003).

Virtual Reality also allows users to “acquire better space perception” (Sik-Lanyi, Lanyi, & Tilinger, 2003, p. 291). It can provide visualization on a large scale, where one can see miniscule details which cannot be seen by the human eye alone. It also allows us to present a field of view greater than the eye allows in real life, which increases the way our mind processes what we see (Nadan et al., 2011).

Students are also able to interact with objects and situations they would not be usually able to. For example, they would be able to reach out to 'touch' the atoms of a complex molecule (Barker, 1993). Barker concludes that Virtual Reality can also create mobility in situations where there is immobility. This is achieved through the use of specialize peripherals which can create auditory, physical, and visual sensation where none may have been present beforehand.

“Virtual reality and games have the potential of embodying abstract concepts in concrete experiences” (Psotka 2013, p. 72). As an example, Psotka (2013) illustrates how a perpetual motion machine could be built within a Virtual Reality to demonstrate the force of gravity. This could be done without the drag of air or any other friction, as the virtual reality is completely customizable, and does not need to adhere to the physics of the real world.

In addition, a study by Passig (2011) demonstrated that the use of Virtual Realities allowed an understanding of the concept of sequential time in a group of mentally challenged teenagers, where little to no understanding existed beforehand. This advanced the teens cognitive abilities, which assisted their sense of reality and could allow them to take on a greater role in society. Previous research by Andolsek (1995) has also found that since virtual realities are completely engaging, they affect the student cognitively.

4 Constraints

Due to the limitations of the desktop systems found in the majority of classrooms, these systems are not suitable for the delivery of immersive Virtual Realities, and are in fact detrimental to the learning process (Fowler, 2014). Fowler elaborates that desktop systems deliver Virtual Realities that are not fully immersive nor provide a true 3D-experience, and that they would be better described as creating semi-immersive scenarios.

This lack of immersiveness is further illustrated in a study (Passig, 2009) of teenagers with mild to moderate intellectual disability and their use of Virtual Reality. Participants reported feeling like a “pilot” within the virtual reality, as opposed to actually being within said Virtual Reality. In addition, participants questioned why they could not see things such as their hands, as they waved them in front of there face in real life, within the Virtual Realities. To Passig (2009), this illustrated the lack of true immersiveness, which the technology strives for, as there was a disconnect between the body and the virtual reality presented to them. By designing and delivering a Virtual Reality that is non-realistic, and non-immersive, some students have also reacted negatively and in fact become frightened of the virtual environments (Psotka, 2013).

However, research has also shown that environments that are too realistic create the possibility of distracting your students (Chen & Teh, 2013). This near-realism distracts from the learning experience, and is ineffective as a teaching tool, as “there is a possibility for the environmental detail to interfere with memory of the actual learning content” (Chen & Teh, 2013, p. 703).

The flexible nature of Virtual Realities, and their nonlinear presentation, do not align well with the traditional structured classroom (Vogel, Greenwood-Ericksen, Cannon-Bowers, & Bowers, 2006). A Virtual Reality cannot replace a real environment, as it lacks the culture and feeling a real location and its peoples have (Jung, 2002). The participants also experience an acute self-awareness of being within a virtual reality, and thus do not act as they would in the real world (Fokides, & Tsolakidis, 2008). Additionaly, concern is expressed that users will spend more time trying to learn the input control and responses of the Virtual Reality, than actually learning the content presented within (Suillivan, Ware, & Plumlee, 2006).

5 Links

Oculus VR's Palmer Luckey - "Virtual Reality: The Road Ahead" - D.I.C.E. 2014 Summit

The Inside Story of Oculus Rift and How Virtual Reality Became Reality

Lessons Learned from porting Team Fortress 2 to Virtual Reality

BBC debuts virtual reality set-up for election coverage

Medical Virtual Reality

6 Works Cited

Abulrub, A., Attridge, A., & Williams, A. (2011). Virtual Reality in Engineering Education: The Future of Creative Learning. International Journal of Emerging Technologies in Learning, 6(4), 4-11. doi: 10.3991/ijet.v6i4.1766

Andolsek, D. (1995). Virtual Reality in Education and Training. International Journal of Instructional Media, 22(2), 145-155. Retrieved from: Barker, P. (1993). Virtual reality: Theoretical basis, practical applications. Association for Learning Technology Journal, 1(1), 15-25. doi: 10.3402/rlt.v1i1.9463

Chen, C., Toh, S., & Fauzy, W. (2004). The Theoretical Framework for Designing Desktop Virtual Reality-Based Learning Environments. Journal of Interactive Learning Research, 15(2), 147-167. Retrieved from:

Fokides, E., & Tsolakidis, C. (2008). Virtual Reality in Education: A Theoretical Approach for Road Safety Training to Students. European Journal of Open, Distance and E-Learning. Retrieved from:

Fowler, C. (2014). Virtual reality and learning: Where is the pedagogy?. British Journal of Educational Technology. doi: 10.1111/bjet.12135

Jung, H. (2002). Virtual Reality Modeling Language. Teaching English with Technology, 2 (5), 54-61. Retrieved from:

Sampaio, P., de Freitas, R., & Cardoso, G. (2009). Applying Multimedia and Virtual Reality For Learning Environments. International Journal of Emerging Technologies in Learning, 4, 32-36. doi:10.3991/ijet.v4s2.912

North, M., Hill, J., Aikhuele, A., & North, S. (2008). Virtual Reality Training in Aid of Communication Apprehension in Classroom Environments. International Journal of Emerging Technologies in Learning, 4(2), 34-37. Retrieved from:

Nadan, T., Alexandrov, V., Jamieson, R., & Watson, K. (2011). Is Virtual Reality a Memorable Experience in Educational Context? International Journal of Emerging Technologies in Learning, 6(1), 53-57. doi: 10.3991/ijet.v6i1.1433

Passig, D. (2009). Improving the Sequential Time Perception of Teenagers with Mild to Moderate Mental Retardation with 3D Immersive Virtual Reality (IVR). Journal of Educational Computing Research, 40(3), 263-280. doi: 10.2190/EC.40.3.a

Psotka, J. (2013). Educational Games and Virtual Reality as Disruptive Technologies. Educational Technology & Society, 16(2), 69-80. Retrieved from:

Sik-Lányi, C., Lányi, Z., & Tilinger, Á. (2003). Using Virtual Reality to Improve Space and Depth Perception. Journal of Information Technology Education, 2, 291-303. Retrieved from:

Sullivan B., Ware C., & Plumlee M. (2006). Linking Audio and Visual Information While Navigating in a Virtual Reality Kiosk Display. Journal Of Educational Multimedia & Hypermedia, 15(2), 217-241. Retrieved from:

Vogel, J., Greenwood-Ericksen, A., Cannon-Bowers, J., & Bowers, C. (2006). Using Virtual Reality with and without Gaming Attributes for Academic Achievement. Journal of Research on Technology in Education, 39(1), 105-118. Retrieved from: