Virtual Reality as a Vehicle for Teaching in Public Schools

Paper delivered by Donald H. Sanders, PhD, at the Northern Institute, National Institute of Canada, Excellence in Education Forum, Dallas, Texas, USA, on August 15, 1996.

posted here September 24, 2019

 I. Introduction

What you can do with VRWe've all heard about virtual reality (or VR). How many have had VR experiences? How many have used VR in their classroom? How can VR achieve its promised revolution? Let's jump right to extreme: VR can do more than recreate existing worlds, VR allows us to imagine and experience new ones. Virtual reality offers the ability to escape the actual world and visit mythical domains, unexplored territories, physically impossible locations, or past civilizations. Any topic or situation can be examined in a virtual setting. Sit next to the Wright Brothers in their historic flights, stroll through the marketplace of Pompeii, explore the volcanoes of Mars, test your wits against a dragon or sphinx, or discuss politics with George Washington. Become a proton and explore the dynamics of an atom. Hey, the laws of physics are strictly optional--you can be placed in an alien body and feel what it's like to live on a distant planet with different laws of motion or behavior. All this is possible and more. Stewart Brand of the MIT Media Lab says: "Junior deities, we want to be. Reality is mostly given. Virtual Reality is creatable." Lest you think I have blundered from educational fact into science fiction, let's examine the issues more closely.

Throughout human development people have attempted to capture the essence of an experience and make it enjoyable for others. Cave paintings, storytellers, sculpture, theater, music, books all offer other views the world, other experiences, other beliefs, and other times, to stimulate the imagination, to instill wonder about the fantastic, and to speculate about the spiritual. Radio, television, and moving pictures continued a quest for increased realism and of being there. The same presentation techniques (and often the content as well) were used also to educate.

Visualization is a recognized means of presenting data and concepts, increasing comprehension and assimilation. Thus, in education, textbooks are illustrated and audiovisual materials are widely used. When a new way to visualize data and concepts becomes available it is natural to ask: "How can this new medium be incorporated productively into the learning process?" Virtual reality is a new medium. Although military, government, and scientific applications of simulations and some form of virtual reality have been around for decades, the application of this technology is largely unexplored for public education, allowing students to become absorbed by another reality and totally immersed in a learning activity.

A Brief history of virtual reality:

History of VRAlthough a new field, many of the underlying concepts and technologies of virtual reality have been around for a long time. Since the 14th century, artists and others have argued specifically that the more three-dimensional or realistic the depiction of an event the more engaging to the onlooker and the more believable the scenes or story would appear to the onlooker, at that time the religious or unbelievers.

    1920s -- Link Corporation developed training devices that simulated fighter plane cockpits. The full-sized mock-ups were mounted on motion platforms that could pitch and yaw to pilots actions.
    late 1950s -- cinematographer Morton Heilig created a simulator known as Sensorama, which could generate city smells, wind sensation, and vibration as a participant sat on a motorcycle and went on a simulated ride through New York City. This device had many of the features of a VR system except that the route was fixed and the experience was not truly interactive, but the complete use of senses has not been duplicated since.
    1960s -- the status of the pioneer of VR is often given to Ivan Sutherland (also dubbed the father of computer graphics), who first proposed the use of stereographic head-mounted displays in the early 1960s whereby users could look around a computer-generated room by turning their head. In 1968, he and David Evans founded a company to produce computer-generated scenes for use in simulators to replace video camera-based scenes.
    early 1970s -- Frederick Brooks at the Universiy of North Carolina Chapel Hill had users handling graphic objects with a mechanical manipulator. In 1972, General Electric's Electronics Laboratory built for the Navy the first flight simulator that used computers; three screens gave pilots 180o simulated vision.
    early 1970s -- Myron Krueger coined the term "artificial reality" and began developing computer-controlled responsive environments eventually called Videoplace. It allowed the user's body to be captured by video camera in real-time and represented as a silhouette on a large screen in a darkened room. Using image processing techniques to detect silhouette edges, users could "finger-paint" by holding up a finger and moving it. A trail of colored paint appeared on the video screen following the movements of the finger; holding up all five fingers erased it. This was true interaction in which the computer was almost secondary if not passive, while the user became the focus.
    late 1970s -- the MIT Media Lab developed the Aspen movie Map, a video simulation of a drive though Aspen, Colorado, in which participants could drive down a street and enter and explore buildings. And, the complexity of fighter aircraft and supersonic speeds made split-second decisions critical to the survival rate of military pilots. In response, in 1979, the military constructed head-mounted displays that directed scenes directly into pilots eyes, eliminating cumbersome and expensive projection systems.
    1980s -- rapid changes to VR technology and applications emerged. Jaron Lanier, a founder of VPL Research Inc., is credited with coining the expression "virtual reality." He used the term to distinguish between the immersive environments he created and traditional computer simulations. Thomas Zimmerman, co-founder of VPL worked with Lanier to develop the DataGlove in 1985, for grasping computer-generated objects in virtual worlds.
    1980s -- artist Vincent John Vincent and computer programmer Francis MacDougall developed the Mandala Virtual Reality System allowing individuals to make music, play, create visual art, and communicate in a computer-based environment.
    1980s -- Michael McGreevy and colleagues at NASA developed goggles that allowed the wearer to look around a graphic landscape portrayed on a computer screen. The goggles were much lighter, simpler, and cheaper than previous HMDs. Also, NASA assembled a virtual environment in which users could issue voice commands, hear synthesized speech and 3D sounds, and grab and manipulate 3D objects with their hands. Communication and feedback with a computer-simulated environment was direct, no contact with computer was needed.
    1980s -- when the University of North Carolina decided to design a new research facility, the institution built a 3D simulation of the architecture instead of traditional balsawood models. Designers were able to look down corridors and into labs. Then they hooked up a treadmill and movable handlebars to the computers to simulate actual walking down the halls and turning into rooms.
    1980s -- of course, also in the 1980s, Star Trek Next Generation used a Holodeck for crew entertainment, a computer-generated environment that used holographic figures and permitted players to participate actively in a completely simulated environment without being able to tell the difference between a real object or character and simulated ones.
    1990s -- in 1992, the movie Lawnmower Man introduced the concept of VR to the public.

Definitions of virtual reality:

There is no universally accepted definition of virtual reality. Because so many terms are used in the scientific literature and the popular media to describe the concept, VR has become a catchphrase for everything from visually coupled systems, desktop flythrough experiences, artificial realities, telepresencing, cyberspace travel, and synthetic environments. From true virtual worlds, to microworlds and cartoon worlds VR has become synonymous with any computer-generated environment that you can get into, anything that fakes a real world experience or viewpoint.

VR refers to a computer-generated immersive, multisensory experience that provides the user with an illusion of being in a real three-dimensional or environment. Virtual environments incorporate into their models of reality perceptual and physiological sensations; color, texture, lighting, acoustic and atmospheric cues; animated sequences; virtual objects; and images. VR lets you navigate and view three-dimensional worlds in real time, with six degrees of freedom--forward and back, up and down, left and right, pitching up and down, angling left and right, and rotating left or right. It is a clone of physical reality. Or to put it another way:

VR as an immersive, multisensory, interactive experience generated by a computer and characterized by the illusion of participation in a synthetic environment rather than external observation of such an environment. To induce a real world sensation, virtual visitors interact with computer-generated objects as well as artificial or actual persons. The virtual world can be a representation of abstract data, events, or a photorealistic visualization of actual situations. The sensation of reality is given by stereoscopic images, binaural sound, textures, and the ability to manipulate objects as if stepping through the computer screen into a new or parallel reality.

What you can do with VRThus, three elements make the complete VR experience--interactiveity, immersion, and self-directed movement. Interaction is moving objects or yourself around the space. Moving objects, like in video games involve no immersion; immersion is totally or mostly believing you are part of the spatial experience. Simulation emphasizes immersion, that is, deceiving your senses into believing that they are physically experiencing something. But immersion alone, as in some ride simulators, does not necessarily involve interaction. Increased believability comes with increased degrees of interaction, immersion, and self-direction.

Types of virtual reality:

Types of VRSeveral distinct types of virtual reality have emerged:

    Artificial reality = complete unencumbered full-body multisensory participation in computer events.
    Immersive reality = eyes and ears or other body sensors are isolated from real environment and fed only information from the computer, providing a first-person interaction within the computer-generated world.
    Augmented reality = simultaneously receiving supplemental virtual data about the real world while navigating around in a physical reality.
    Telepresence = use of a robotic vehicle and viewing system to give a feeling of being present at remote real locations with the ability to manipulate objects at that remote location.
    CAVE (Cave Automated Virtual Environment) = introduced by the Electronic Visualization Laboratory at the University of Illinois in 1992; essentially rear-projection systems for three walls and a floor projected in stereo and viewed with stereo glasses. As a CAVE viewer moves, a location sensor tracks movement within the display boundaries, and the correct perspective and stereo projections of the environment move with and surround the viewer. It is total immersion so that when you look up you see virtual sky or down for ground; projection systems create surroundings that feel like walking into an enclosed space, without being physically linked to a device.

Virtual reality hardware and software:

VR hardware Fully immersive virtual reality experiences require a hardware platform with multimedia and fast graphics capabilities, interface devices such as instrumented clothing or head-mounted displays, associated motion tracking equipment, and VR software toolkits. Essential are a computer and VR software.

Sensors worn on or near the body enhance the virtual experience; they include: instrumented gloves to manipulate virtual objects and provide tactile feedback; wired clothing or bodysuits to translate full body movement into the virtual world; head-mounted displays for creating a sense of presence in a virtual setting.

Tracking devices find your position and orientation in the real world and relate them to the virtual one. They vary widely in technology, form, and cost (from $600-$6,000), depending on the technology employed and whether they give 3dof or 6dof (e.g. those from Ascension, Shooting Star Technology, Logitech, SpaceTech, BioControl systems); and laser-based optical tracking systems from Spatial Positioning Systems go for $50,000-$70,000.

The most common device is the head-mounted display (HMD), usually in the form of a helmet with a tiny computer monitor for each eye. There are a wide range of HMDs (from $700 to $50,000) depending on resolution, field of vision, lens quality, degrees of freedom, tracking technology, sound quality, ergonomics, and head positioning tolerances. The trade off is either a wider field of view with lower apparent resolution or a narrow field of view with higher apparent resolution. Low-end HMDs include Virtual I/O I-glasses ($800), the CyberMaxx from VictorMaxx technologies ($889), and Forte VRX-1 ($995). Other examples are the VIM-HMD from Kaiser Electro-Optics, Visette 2 from Virutalitey, and VR4 from Virtual Research. The HRX HMD sells for $49,000.

Boom-mounted displays are offered from Fakespace or LEEP technologies, essentially similar to HMDs but mounted on booms for ease of movement and less weight on the head.

Also available are eye trackers, goggles, and 3D glasses (with names like CrystalEyes and Cypbereye). Virtual screens with one lens placed 25cm in front of one eye act like a monitor while users can look away into physical space at same time. Instrumented gloves with sensors such as the DataGlove (a handtracking device created by Jaron Lanier of VPL, for $8800), came to the mass market as the PowerGlove by Mattel for use with Nintendo video games. Now several varieties of gloves are available from $500 to the 5th Glove, by Fifth Dimension Technologies, and the Dexterous Hand Master from EXOS, for $15,000. Also available is the partial or full body sensor or biosensor (to detect muscle activity, or eye movement) and 3Dof or 6Dof mouse; also used are joysticks or spaceballs from $70-1200; Force feedback (or haptic) sensors provide real-time feedback for a sense of touch and the sensation of holding, pulling, or feeling textures. And 3D sound devices from Crystal River Engineering, under names like Convolvotron, Beachtron, Acoustetron.

Popular VR software includes Virtus Walkthough, Virtus VRML ($99) and Virtus Walkthrough Pro ($495). Virtus Corporation desktop software allows the user to build anything that has volume and then walk through what has been built, but offers no sound and the palette is limited to 256 colors. VREAM virtual reality development system (VRCreatror - $495) is more expensive but supports datagloves, head trackers, and goggles. Virtual Reality Studio from Domark Software (San Mateo CA) builds 3D environments and allows walkthroughs or animations, and also supports sound; one version sells for under $100. ParaGraph developed Virtual Home Space Builder ($49) with 50 pre-built spaces and capability to attach multimedia files to its 3D objects.

Higher-end software from Divison is a C-language world toolkit for a Pentium platform $50,000-$200,000; WorldToolKit and WorldUp by Sense8 (Mill Valley CA, sell for $3500--$12,000) for UNIX or Windows NT; and there is VistaPro by Virtual Realities Laboratories (San Luis Obispo CA). Other options include Open/Inventor ($1395) for Windows NT, with Visual C++; Superscape VRT for creating and editing worlds and objects, includes a bitmap editor for textures, animation and morphing editor, and its own programming language ($4000); and Microcosm from VPL Research for the Mac platform runs for about $75,000. Of course, this is all out of date as of now. VRML (Virtual Reality Modeling Language) allows virtual environments to run on PCs, from CDs, or over the Internet.

 II. General Applications of VR

Science and medicine:

Applications of VRScientific, especially medical, uses of VR have been generally ahead of other applications, mostly for training medical students and professionals and for telemedicine (for example, the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, Department of Computer Science, graphics lab has actively researched virtual worlds for nearly twenty years). Advanced visualization techniques enable teams of diagnosticians, surgeons, and practitioners to collaborate in shared virtual examination rooms. Using computer-generated multidimensional images created from slides taken of a real person's body, professionals and students can interact with a virtual patient. Interns can train under the direction of surgeons performing high-risk procedures, literally opening up the skin to examine parts of the circulation system or individual body parts, in virtual operating rooms before attempting the real thing.

At Georgia Institute of Technology, medical trainees can don VR goggles and see an organ in fine detail and take a scalpel and begin to perform surgery feeling the resistance against the blade. East Carolina University Medical School and Harvard Medical School are developing VR software for surgical procedures, for studying blood flow, for orthopedic surgery, for respiratory mechanics. Currently, complete telemedicine facilities exist at East Carolina University and over 50 physicians in 23 specialty areas have used the system for consultations with specialists to review procedures and learn new techniques.

Researchers at SRI International in California have developed a telepresence surgery system to allow doctors hundreds of feet away to operate on a live patient using MRI, CATscans, and X-rays; the data are fed into a VR system coupled to remote robotic mechanisms. The surgeon has stereoscopic vision of the patient and the remote tools give the surgeon the feel of real implements with remote audio, tactile, and force feedback promoting a sense of really being in the operating theater.

The Institute for International Informatics (California) designed a virtual world for children with cancer to allow them to have an "out of ward" experience. VR and telepresence allowed children to simulate driving a race car, using their muscles to control a miniature motivator linked to a remote robotic vehicle with a camera mounted on top so bed-ridden children could explore outdoors.

Some specific scientific applications include the Hubbell Space Telescope Mission Trainer developed at Johnson Space Center in Houston which allows astronauts and flight controllers to explore movement in outer space around a simulated shuttle. Astronomers uss CAVE VR systems to study complex physical phenomena, like wormholes and the behavior of distant galaxies.

Architecture and archaeology:

Applications of VRVirtual architectural environments allow planners, designers, users, and residents to walk though proposed designs of offices, shopping centers, virtual houses, or parts of houses. Walkthroughs of such environments allow potential problems or design flaws to emerge and be remedied prior to committing to construction. Virtual golf courses, race tracks, port facilities, and airports are used to visualize situations too complex, expensive, or impractical to test in real life. This use of VR is not trivial, for in animations, videos or traditional 2d renderings, the client remains passive, but in a VR environment the experience is interactive with the client encouraged to participate fully in the design process. Architect and client can configure or change the space dynamically together, experiment with lighting, colors and textures.

Clemson University is developing photo-realisitc environments for undergraduate instruction. North Carolina State University Virtual Environments Laboratory at the School of Design was founded back in 1980 to provide design practitioners alternative visualization techniques for graphic design, landscape design, product design, and architecture.

Last year, the first conference to discuss applications of VR for preservation of cultural heritage monuments convened in England. Speakers demonstrated virtual reconstructions of archaeological sites from Egypt, Pompeii, Roman Britain, and Lascaux.

Other applications:

Applications of VRThere are also applications in entertainment, recreation, transportation, business and finance, and the military.

Entertainment may become one of the major outlets for VR. Cyberspace theaters where players interact with themselves and computer characters have been proposed. Virtual games and adventures are available for video arcades and theme parks, already in use at Disney World, Foxwoods Casino and the Luxor Hotel in Las Vegas.

Steven Spielberg is working with various technological partners to create a broadband networked virtual playspace for seriously ill children, enabling them to participate in a fully interactive community, to bolster child's self-esteem and to create a happier hospital environment. Complete video and voice communication from within VR worlds are possible, using 3D avatars (graphics representations of people or creatures) based on drawings by each child. Children will be able to roam through the environment, play games together, meet and talk, or undertake other creative activities. The software allows the avatars to have realistic walking, running, and jumping capabilities.

Virtual environments linked to physical fitness machines allow exercisers to watch computer-generated scenes while using equipment that requires body movements in sync with the scenes, such as rowing or biking up and down hills.

In the transportation industry, VR allows engineers to climb inside a car and test various arrangements of the interior for comfort and convenience. A virtual prototype built by Caterpillar Cab permits designers to test drive new bulldozers. Boeing Corporation uses virtual worlds for human factors testing of airplane mockups, for training, and operations planning.

Commercial packages can turn financial data, stock market movement, and trading activities into objects within a 3D space. A bank in England uses VR to represent activities at branch banks all over the island; with deposits and bank locations represented in a 3D environment in which users can visit and view any branch operations (such as the ebb and flow of balances) and even the interior layout of the banks.

The University of Central Florida Visual Systems Laboratory, Institute for Simulation and Training carries out military simulations in immersive VR environments. One reason that Desert Storm apparently went so smoothly is that some troops already fought the battles using VR to simulate specific warfare situations. More advanced technologies and Internet-based connections will soon allow large numbers of distributed soldiers to fight simulated battles, fly airplanes and combat helicopters, operate tanks and missiles across virtual battlefields. Battlefield maneuvers, covert operations, and concealment techniques can be perfected on the screen first before battle-testing them with lives at stake.

But there's no reason why the military needs to have all the fun.

 III. Educational Applications of VR

Reasons to use VR in the classroom:

Educational uses VRThe real world can be messy and harmful, and distances between important people and places are often too great. By reflecting the real world, VR allows participants to try out different options without the dangers, expense, or time consumption of the real thing. VR programs are engaging, it's almost impossible to remain passive, thus the student (and teacher) become entertained as well as educated. In virtual environments, participants do not learn by doing; doing becomes learning.

With VR, students and teachers can explore existing places and things that would not otherwise be accessible to them; explore real things that, without alterations of scale in size and time could not otherwise be effectively examined; create places and things with altered qualities; interact with people who are in remote locations; interact with real people in imaginary spaces to support iterative design; interact with real people in non-realistic ways, or create and manipulate abstract concepts, like data structures and mathematical functions.

VR also allows the disabled to participate in experiments or learning environments otherwise beyond their capacities; VR allows learners to proceed through an experiences at their own pace; VR allows learners to participate over a long time span not constrained by regular classroom routines; provides experience with new technologies through actual use; and encourages active participation and interaction either alone or in groups.

Thus, VR can contribute to the enhancement of cognitive skills and intellectual achievement. While the future as seen in the popular press is often based on top-of-the line systems and devices, substantial benefits arise from modest systems well within the range of school budgets. No single interface or system will fit all learning situations, but educators, administrators, researchers, and content providers can together determine the proper fit.

Examples of virtual reality in the classroom:

It's only in the past five years that serious consideration has been given to uses of VR for K-12 education. During that time experimentation with VR in public schools has rapidly expanded. There are too many examples to review here, but I will give a sampling.

West Denton High Schools, Newcastle-upon-Tyne, GB, installed a VR research and development project in 1991 and 1992, the first of its kind in Europe. Three virtual environments were designed with desktop systems: a dangerous factory to explore health and safety issues; an intelligent city in which participants learn a foreign language while trying to navigate normal urban activities, like going to the theater or taking a bus; and an outdoor sculpture park, to resolve issues relating to alternative uses of public lands.

The Human Interface Technology Lab (HITLab), University of Washington, Seattle, began exploring educational uses of VR in 1990. Their VRRV project, the Virtual Reality Roving Vehicle, brought VR technology to 3000 students in grades 4-12 in 70 schools during 1994 and 1995. The goals were to demystify the hype of VR, expose pupils and teachers to the capabilities of high-end machines, and see whether schoolage children would respond to leaning through the new medium. Students were allowed to build their own virtual worlds as part of the teaching.

Interface Technologies Corporation is developing the Virtual Environment Science Laboratory (VESL) for public education. It allows students on affordable PC-compatible platforms to enter virtual environments and interact using external devices or with speech. It currently teaches physics and other sciences in a game-like paradigm to enhance discovery of critical concepts. Worlds include riding a comet, in which students controlled the comet with just a wave of their hand or sound of their voice.

As a result of the outreach programs of the East Carolina Virtual Reality Education Laboratory, 15 schools systems around the world are actively incorporating VR into everyday classroom activities. The VREL publishes a journal reviewing examples of VR in education.

The results of these programs were wildly successful. Post-VR environment testing of these worlds has shown that students do indeed learn the required concepts from the environments. High motivation was observed since the learner is so directly involved in the learning experience. Students who build virtual worlds learned the content they were expected to and learned equally well as those who did not build worlds; but those who built worlds developed a better attitude toward science and computers; the greater the spatial qualities of the worlds the more enjoyable the experience, the greater the learning.

Dangers of VR:

Dangers of VRAre there harmful effects associated with the use of VR?

Since a fully immersive VR application is designed to convince viewers that they are existing in another reality apart from physical world, concerns have been raised about the use of violence in VR--destructive tendencies may be heightened without the sense of physical or moral consequences. Will virtual games and role-playing alter people's perceptions of the real world? Could a form of desensitization to life and property result from continued exposure to battle scenes or simulated destruction? Could there be emotional damage as a result of experiencing a VR crash or personal attack.

The psychological effects of propaganda or overexposure are present in any media. Will virtual visitors be more susceptible to erroneous or purposely misleading ideas or information, since they often suspend belief to enter a virtual world? VR could be harmful to those with tendencies toward mental illness; could people forget how to interact with real people?

Simulator sickness, known since the late 50s, is a real concern in immersive VR environments. Some kind of sickness is a potential in any vehicle or situation in which we are or seem to be propelled while actually remaining passive. The signs and symptoms of simulator sickness include those of any motion sickness as well as drowsiness, confusion, difficulty concentrating, and blurred vision. Some users have mentioned flashbacks and posture changes. Two main factors contribute to the situation: 1) experiencing environments in which the normal sensory cues are absent, yet the audio and visual clues tell the brain to expect certain movements and reactions that do not occur, causing confusion along the normal brain channels; and 2) inexpensive HMDs, for which there are no standards or tests to help evaluate the dangers due to poor quality lenses, incorrect focal distances, and poor frame-rate transferals from computer to the brain.

These questions and problems, nevertheless, do not devalue the potential benefits of VR. It means that educators will have to accept an ethical responsibility for determining the role of VR in institutions of learning. To understand the disadvantages, the capabilities, and the limitations is to better grasp the challenges and properly direct the development of virtual environments. Note--HMDs are not necessary in classroom or desktop VR, as we will see.

Teaching the teachers:

No one expects teachers to simply walk into a classroom, switch on the computer, and suddenly be masters of a new reality, let alone of all the accompanying hardware and software. We need to establish the means to bring the whole educational infrastructure, people, schools, and technology, up to speed together with common goals.

One of HITLab's VRRV goals was to teach the teachers as well as the pupils about the new technology and its applications in an educational environment. Both need to use the hardware and software and be comfortable taking control of both for the needs of the classroom. The outreach of the VRRV allows researchers to bring the high-end materials directly to schools.

Also, the VREL gives courses specifically designed for teaching teachers and administrators about VR, the software and hardware, and the installation of VR labs in schools, especially implementing lower-end systems and software.

 IV. Archaeology as vehicle for using VR the classroom

Why teach arch'y in public schools?:

Archaeology in the classroomArchaeology is an effective teaching tool because its multidisciplinary basis enables focused or holistic approaches. It can be used to teach critical thinking skills, problem solving, and citizenship, and it enhances small group and cooperative learning. It is an excellent way to promote cultural awareness and sensitivity, which leads to an understanding of diverse cultural perspectives. Studying the past allows students to examine and project the consequences of human behavior and decision making. Archaeology reinforces the concept of a shared human heritage and provides modern people with perspectives on their own place and time in history.

Exploring this discipline can be an adventure, filled with a sense of discover and mystery. By understanding that students are part of the human continuum, they can better appreciate why people are the way they are today. Students learn of the fragility of archaeological (and thus, natural) resources. When students are made aware of archaeological methods they understand that archaeology is a scientific process that must be conducted or supervised by trained personnel and that sites and artifacts are protected by laws. This instills a sense of stewardship making them more sensitive to all types of cultures and their products.

Benefits of the future classroom:

The future classroomWe can now put together the concepts we have dwelt on thus far--the technology, imaginative applications, education in public schools, and archaeology as a vehicle.

Traditional education is based on knowledge acquisition in a classroom setting. Effective instruction depends on creating and implementing a curricular program that is responsive to the sensitivities and needs of individual learners. Yet, overcrowded classrooms, shortage of experienced teachers in required subject areas, limited opportunities for access to the proper instructional resources, and insufficient time to monitor individual student's progress hinder the goals of education.

Alternative strategies need to be found. We all know that. VR applications promise to address the deficiencies in the current system. The structure, content, and objectives of VR course modules and directions for accomplishing learning tasks can be adapted to individual needs, physical abilities, temperaments, and preferences. I believe that using real world archaeological data as the backdrop offers significant benefits over many of the hypothetical scenarios in use today. For example:

    Archaeological virtual worlds can take students to geographic or temporally distant places otherwise beyond their or their school's ability to provide.
    Unlike traditional 2nd- or 3rd-hand exposure, archaeological virtual worlds provide near first-hand experiences with other cultures, other lifestyles, and other belief systems, in turn promoting tolerance and understanding.
    These worlds, when linked globally over the information infrastructure, allow schools to call upon the very best instructors in the world for any given special assignment.
    Such worlds can reduce costs by eliminating the need for redundant paper-based instructional materials throughout a school system.
    Instructors become informaton managers tending to the specific needs of individual students; true one-on-one instruction can really be delivered.

Learning Sites can do it all:

Learning Sites has the expertise, experience, and staff to generate appropriate content and guidance. We can:

    Provide the most up-to-date materials, information, and virtual worlds, because data are continually updated directly from the field and current interpretations.
    Link scholars, researchers, educators, software developers, museum specialists, and technicians in a global bi-directional conversation and learning environment to the benefit of all.
    Build complete instructional packages for teachers based on specified curricula guidelines and designed in conjunction with standards for teaching archaeology defined by professional societies.
    Deliver the content over the Internet, via CD-ROM, local cable connections, direct to VR labs or regional technology nodes.

 V. Conclusion

Sources of information about VR and education:

The VREL at East Carolina University wants to place VR software in the hands of interested teachers to be used with their specific teaching objectives in their classrooms. Collaborative projects using VR software can also been arranged. Instructors volunteer for the program and receive the necessary software, so that only the most motivated teachers participate, as there should be no pressure to use VR in the classroom nor should the use of VR be prescribed; teachers are free to be creative in their applications. The software chosen is Virtus Walkthrough. Hands-on training at the VREL is offered, and the VREL staff help identify the curricula items for which the technology is best suited. The teachers then design the lessonplan to include a VR component. VREL consults at each step. So far, teachers have used the methods for 2nd-5th grades for math, drafting, creative writing, science, and social studies. VREL is also a clearinghouse for materials relating to VR for education at all levels, including bibliographies, newsletters, information on evaluating VR software, and laboratory for exploring the technology.

Diversity University, Journal of Virtual Reality Education covers text-based VR conferencing systems and provides hints for global education through the use of Internet-based services like gophers and graphical Web browsers.

When is VR right for your class?

When is VR right for classWhen should you use VR? When a simulation would be used; when teaching or training using the real thing is dangerous, impossible, or inconvenient; when mistakes by the learner or trainer could be dangerous, demoralizing, harmful to the environment, or costly; when a model of the environment will teach or train as well as the real thing; when interacting with a model is as motivating or more so than the real thing; when travel, cost, and logistics of planning a class outing makes an alternative attractive; when shared experiences of a group in a shared environment is important; when the experience of creating the simulation or model is part of the learning objectives; when important visualizations are needed to comprehend the task or problems; when training situations need to be more real than real; when necessary to make perceptible the imperceptible, the small, or the abstract; when teaching tasks involve manual dexterity or physical movement beyond the immediate surrounds; and when it would make learning more fun and exciting.

When not to use VRDo not use VR when there is no substitute for real objects; when interaction with humans is essential to the task; when using a virtual environment would be harmful physically or emotionally; when the model or simulation becomes too real and confusion with the real thing might result; or when the VR system is too expensive given the probable outcome of the lesson.

How to evaluate a virtual environmentHere are some questions to ask when evaluating a virtual environment prior to its use in the classroom: Are the contents of the application objectively and clearly presented? Can the participant learn something the virtual world that would be helpful in the real world? Can the VR interface accommodate learner needs and requirements? Can the application reach multiple senses, support different learning styles, and expand the range of student experiences? Is the application consistent with school guidelines? What are the total costs involved?

How to evaluate a virtual environmentRegarding user actions, how is behavior tolerance handled (will participants be able to leave the world if it becomes too stressful)? Will participants recognize objectionable behavior and act property to correct it? How is behavior manipulation handled (would participants be cajoled to do something in the virtual world that they would not do in the real world, would they believe and act on information that in the real world they would not)? Would they buy something that in the virtual world that they would not in the real world?

Wrap-up -- the Future

Concerns with the performance of VR technology, the challenges of VR implementation, and the affects of immersion, while important, should not overshadow the significance of VR for facilitating educational activities in the learning environment. The technological aspects will take care of themselves, the transmission time, the bandwidth, the local access channels, the optical resolution of headsets or glasses, and the ability of tracking devices will all improve due to normal marketplace pressures. We must together focus on constructing the proper content suitable for our school's curricula and teaching instructors and administrators how best to make use of the systems.

There may be some concerns that increasing dependence on technology in the classroom will turn traditional paths to knowledge inside out or upside down as the typical paradigm of the teacher-student relationship is re-engineered. This is a welcome challenge, not a barrier, because educators will be freed to diversify strategies to help students learn in accordance with their specific strengths. Instructor's roles in that learning process as facilitators and change agents will be enhanced. Learning will take place on both sides of the desk. We need to educate students and teachers alike about the new technology by demystifying it without trivializing it; create a supportive environment for learning without controlling the use of VR in every classroom.

open your imaginationLearning is no longer bound by time or place, students and teachers can interact in a virtual educational community and be able to experience new knowledge domains equally with peers, instructors, and experts from all around the globe. The experience in a virtual environment, can be enticing, scary, and awesome; and the concomitant changes incumbent on instructors will cause apprehension, but the changes are already happening. How much and how rapidly we change our perspectives of the whole educational process depends not only on the questions being asked, but equally on the content and visualizations chosen to illuminate the answers.

Close this presentation and return to the Index