Unlocking the future of learning: Introducing Erasmus University’s Immersive Tech Space
At ErasmusX, we look for ways to improve students’ educational experience beyond Erasmus University Rotterdam (EUR). We scout for tech-enabled learning approaches to facilitate our goal of improving education through innovation. As immersive technologies develop and become more efficient, their educational uses widen. We have identified that immersive technologies such as Virtual Reality (VR) and Augmented Reality (AR) will be valuable for EUR. With this in mind, a new room will be dedicated to experimenting with these technologies! Save the date for its grand opening on January 19th.
But before we meet, let’s discuss the background of immersive technologies and why they will be useful in education. This article will first define VR and AR, and discuss the accessibility of these technologies. Next, we will go into these technologies in the context of education and discuss the relevant pros and cons. Finally, we will end with some examples of how immersive technologies are used in education!
What are Virtual Reality and Augmented Reality?
Virtual Reality (VR) is defined as an alternative world filled with computer-generated images that respond to human movement. Simply put, it is an online reality in which you can simulate your movements in any environment that a computer can generate. Here are some day-to-day examples of Virtual Reality: first-person shooter games, flight simulations, or even online meetings.
Augmented Reality (AR) is very similar to VR, but instead of there being an alternative reality, the computer-generated images are superimposed on the user’s view of the real world. A familiar example of this is seen in stores such as Ikea, where you can superimpose the couch you want to buy in your living room. The ruler app is another great example, through which you can measure something without physically needing to do it.
Accessibility of Immersive Technology
Immersive Tech has gone through many changes, with each iteration developing towards a more cost-efficient and improved version. On the one hand, the price of VR headsets has been decreasing year after year. But even with this price decrease, its use value has not been assessed for education, meaning that its 200–1000 dollar price range (depending on the product) is not yet justified. Immersive tech content needs to catch up to its price for it to have widespread use. An obvious example lies in the average computer price, which can exceed the aforementioned price range. Despite this, computers have become an integral part of everyone’s curriculum to the point that without one, one’s educational quality would be affected.
On the other hand, Augmented Reality presents a different story that can be applied in many cases at lower barrier-to-entry costs. Apps and websites have already implemented augmented reality which makes its adoption into education more likely to happen sooner. An example of this is the Photo Math Solver in which you can point your camera at a math problem and it will find a solution. There are also more expensive versions of augmented reality devices that people have developed, such as the Apple Vision Pro and Google Project Starline, which we predict to have a great added value to education.
Immersive Technology and Education
For the implementation of Immersive Tech to be justified at EUR, its ability to improve education needs to be clarified. Therefore, let’s go over the pros and cons!
There still needs to be more studies done to provide clear effects and strengthen the existing trends in the literature about the benefits of VR and AR. But based on existing literature, here is what we found:
- Seamless interaction
VR provides seamless interaction between students. When students are working as a group on a singular computer, they are focused on a screen in order to get the necessary information. This means that they are likely to miss nonverbal cues such as gaze and gestures from the rest of the group. VR can allow for seamless interaction as each person can not only see the necessary information but can also benefit from seeing these nonverbal cues.
1. Tangible interface
VR is a tangible interface, meaning students can manipulate physical objects in ways not possible in normal reality. More intuitive learning can be promoted as students can interact with the content without needing previous knowledge. This can increase students’ learning capacity and focus while learning.
2. Motivation and learning capacity
It was found that VR allows learners to feel more motivated and engaged with the content with an increase in level of attention by 100% and a subsequent 30% improvement in test results. When reading textual content, we not only have to read the content, but we also need to turn it into our own visualizations. With VR, there would be less of a need for visualization which would make learning more direct. The learner requires less cognitive effort to learn the same thing, making the content easier to understand. This can differ from learner to learner — especially in learning types, but this effect was found for the majority.
3. Complex theory visualization
In the higher education context, complex theories and mechanisms can benefit from AR technology, especially in science programs that need visualization and interaction with content.
4. Soft skills environment
Soft skills enable a person to effectively and harmoniously communicate with another individual. Normally, improving them means throwing yourself into the situation. For example, you get better at interviews by doing more interviews. Immersive Technology allows one to simulate the real-world conditions of the interview without actually being in it. This would allow students who may lack these soft skills to practice in real-world-like environments until they are ready to try it in real life.
5. Future proof
AR and VR are the future, obviously. Some experts predict that soon, they will be a part of all computing platforms. Having students interact with them from an early age would allow an easier transition into future workplace.
Keeping in mind the apparent bias that this statement could bring, there have not been many studies that have focused on the cons of immersive technology. But hopefully, we can give you another perspective and show the potential ‘emptiness’ in immersive tech. In general, widespread use will take more time, because these technologies are hard to implement and have greater scales.
1. Lack of user experience
There is a lack of user experience and content in both teaching and learning which is preventing the mass adoption of AR and VR.
2. Procurement challenge
VR and AR provide a lot of different hardware opportunities. However, this can also cause a lot of challenges in procuring all of these devices. To name a few: there are head-mounted displays (HMDs), stereo projections, haptic feedback devices, controllers, tracking systems, depth sensors, and motion platforms. There are also a multitude of setups. For students to get the full experience, they would have to try all of these devices and setups, but this is not realistic.
3. Bottleneck and supervision requirement
Devices are still expensive and not available in large numbers, which only allows one student to get the VR/AR experience at a time. With this, the students would need to be supervised, due to the risk of tripping hazards or cyber-sickness from being completely immersed in a different reality. This requires great effort for an educator to implement this in a class.
4. Access challenge
These devices will not be available to students after office hours. This means it can not be a part of their homework, which is integral to learning. Learning occurs through repetition and not being able to use the same devices at home will slow the progress for students when learning from VR.
5. Space challenge
Depending on the number of VR and AR devices that are chosen, significant floor space may be taken up, and in combination with only accommodating one student at a time, it does not account for wide implementation.
Immersive Tech in Education
Let’s point out some examples of how Immersive Technology has already been implemented in other schools. An example is the Polar Explorer, which was implemented by Arizona State University and other colleges to teach students about climate change in polar environments. Another example comes from Purdue University where 3D models of astronomical objects were developed virtually, enabling professors to use these 3D models to teach. The medical field has also benefited from AR and VR with the HoloLens which is used to demonstrate the anatomy of the body in different ways.
Immersive tech has not only benefited education, but also soft skills that are necessary for students as they go into the work environment, as shown by Morehouse College in the US. A soft skill learning environment may also be arriving at EUR soon!
There are many more examples, but hopefully, these provide a glimpse into how these Immersive technologies can be used in education.
Do you want to share your input about Immersive Tech in education? Click here to answer a few questions!
And of course, join us at the launch of our Immersive Tech Space on the 19th of January to test out different immersive technologies and try out some programs! Stay tuned for more information on our social media.
Jonathan Steur, Defining Virtual Reality: Dimensions Determining Telepresence, https://www.researchgate.net/publication/2461002_Defining_Virtual_Reality_Dimensions_Determining_Telepresence
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Noureddine Elmquaddem, Augmented Reality and Virtual Reality in Education. Myth or Reality? https://online-journals.org/index.php/i-jet/article/view/9289
Kangdon Lee, Augmented Reality in Education and Training, https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s11528-012-0559-3
Jennifer Herrity, What Are Soft Skills?, Definition, Examples and Resume Tips, https://www.indeed.com/career-advice/resumes-cover-letters/soft-skills
Ralf Doerner and Robin Horst, Overcoming challenges when teaching hands-on courses about Virtual Reality and Augmented Reality: Methods, techniques and best practice, https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S2666629421000188#sec3