Transforming the Classroom Using Online Virtual Reality

Virtual reality is no longer limited to video games. Now, educators are turning their classrooms into a virtual environment to enhance learning. Research has uncovered that at least 300 universities around the world teach courses or conduct research using virtual technology, and it’s used in more than 80 percent of universities in the U.K. alone for development, teaching and/or learning activities. Virtual world technologies are being embraced by educators worldwide and are changing the way we use the Internet to learn.

Using online virtual reality in education can be the most realistic option. Some course topics require role-play to teach students how to respond in certain situations, but building these real-world scenarios can be costly and isn’t always realistically possible. For example, a training course on emergency management needs to visually demonstrate defensive actions in various crisis situations and put students at the front line. Using games or computer animations to do so can be expensive and might contain more entertainment than educational value. The problem that many educators face is finding a low-cost and effective way to produce role-play simulations that cannot be done in real life. Since it is difficult to give students hands-on training, how can educators provide this type of engagement without creating it in the real world?

The answer is using online virtual reality. A 3D world like Second Life allows users to create a customisable character to explore thousands of places, build and interact with the world and other users. Today, hundreds of colleges, universities and e-learning providers use the virtual platform to teach subjects such as science, interior design, hospitality management, architectural design, legal practice and real estate.

Let’s look at the benefits of using Second Life in education:

* Second Life’s digital world offers a low-cost environment for building role-play movies, allowing educators to immerse students in real-life experiences and allow them to act according to what they have learned.

* The online virtual reality platform allows for hands-on interactivity and overcomes physical constraints of typical classroom education.

* Second Life provides multiple channels of communication with students. This includes the use of images, audio, video, voice, and public and private text. The platform also supports multiple languages and chat translation.

* Visualisation is achieved more effectively through online virtual reality. Normally, something that is hard to explain or show to students is easily demonstrated in three dimensions.

*Second Life can be used for research and as a way for instructors to hold office hours, meeting with students in the online world to save travel costs.

- © 2009. All rights reserved, Gatlin International, LLC

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