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Force or fad? But is VR really useful in education, or is it just a fad? “It’s a fad in the same way PCs were a fad in the early 1980s,” says Dale Linegar, director of multimedia company Oztron Media. “The technology is only starting to reach maturity and its true impact won’t be felt for several years. “The main power of VR as it currently exists is to allow students to explore environments they are otherwise unable to access. They can join an African lion safari, swim with whales or catch a wave with a pro surfer. “VR is great for experiential learning. For example, you can be a blood cell travelling through the body, or the moon orbiting the earth.” VR platforms are certainly here to stay as teaching and learning tools, says Magdi Ghobrial, arts and technology education leader at Mount Alexander College in Melbourne. When Oztron came to the school to demonstrate virtual worlds, the students were “engaged and learning” while using supplied smartphones, goggles and apps to experience an African safari and travel through the solar system. “In the safari world, they could move around all the animals. In space, they saw the stars and planets move around them,” says Ghobrial. “It was a great experience. They found it fascinating and asked many questions.” There are two ways to look at VR in the classroom, he says. “It can be an immersive experience, such as with the goggles. But students can also create virtual worlds.

Getting started Virtual reality apps include: Expeditions Google Play Teachers act as guides to lead student explorers through field trips, from Antarctica to the International Space Station, pointing out sights along the way. Apollo 11 the-apollo-11-experience The Oculus Rift virtual reality headset

“The learning goes much further when they start to produce their own three-dimensional worlds, rather than just walking around in a simulated environment. And creating virtual worlds is cheaper than buying a class set of VR goggles and associated apps. “It’s early days. I’m still researching and looking around, and I’m expecting more educational apps around soon.”

Cardboard alternative The expense of class sets of VR headsets can be minimised by using Google Cardboard goggles, which turn a mobile phone into a VR headset. They can be purchased for less than $20, says Gregory. “Google Cardboards aren’t as immersive as the [state-of-the-art] Oculus Rift headset [released in March this year] and the graphics aren’t as good, but they are a great way to get started.” l

On July 20, 1969, Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin became the first people to walk on the moon. Students experience this historic event through a mix of original archive audio and video, together with recreations of the spacecraft and locations. Aquarium VR iTunes, Google Play Take a journey underwater to learn more about Pacific Ocean sealife, from clownfish to sharks. Molecule VR iTunes, Google Play Discover a closer look at the microworld of the cell. Wander inside protein structures and be surrounded by their atoms. Star Chart VR iTunes, Google Play Students explore the solar system and night sky, from scorching-hot Mercury to faraway Pluto. Titans of Space Google Play Experience a short guided tour of our planets and stars.

Cynthia Karena is a freelance writer. AU ST R A L I A N E D U C ATO R 9 1 S P R I N G 2 01 6 3 1

Educator spring 2016

Educator spring 2016