Virtual Reality Technology Like Oculus Used to Enhance University Degree Programs

Posted By Eliana Osborn on June 3, 2016 at 9:01 am
Virtual Reality Technology Like Oculus Used to Enhance University Degree Programs

Gaming and fantasy aren’t the only realms where cutting edge virtual reality comes in handy. The University of Wisconsin is updating their Master of Data Science program to include Oculus technology. And, other schools are finding ways change classroom learning using this innovation.

UW instructional designer Ryan Martinez first proposed using Oculus to enhance the somewhat dry field of data. His ideas won him a spot in the Oculus Launch Pad Boot Camp to work with the company—and 100 other prospective users—to figure out how to harness the power of virtual reality. The boot camp took place in May and some of the participants will receive funding to make their ideas come to fruition.

For UW, Oculus is a way to make online learning exciting in new ways. Stanford University is also using virtual reality in a wide range of pursuits, helping researchers understand things from empathy to climate change.

Stanford’s Virtual Human Interaction Lab not only utilizes VR technology for research purposes, but they also develop ways to track movement and more effectively harness the power of VR for the whole planet. Their wide ranging projects and substantial funding make VHIL the top destination for those interested in discovering the world in this way.

In Australia, the diverse fields of psychology and computing are where Macquarie University focuses their use of virtual reality technology. The simulation lab covers a wide range of activities from driving and flight to more natural ways to interact with computers.

Higher education has already moved out of the physical world and into a virtual sphere simply by the growth of online learning. Recent polling indicates that just 13% of college students choose to avoid face to face classes (link to Visual Representation/Gates graphic). If that experience can be enhanced through hyper-realistic VR technology, the potential is huge for spreading opportunity to students around the world.

Georgia State University associate dean Bryan Sinclair writes for Educause that virtual reality is becoming mainstream, rather than a futuristic dream. “In a not-too-distant future, as VR technologies advance at a steady pace and become embedded in our lives, we may one day look back with a sense of amazement at students once bound to a physical classroom, campus setting, locale, or even place in time.”

UW’s integration of virtual reality in a specific degree program, rather than for general research or exploration purposes, will be a chance to see how others might use such technology. VR may very well be the next stage in the evolution of education.

Eliana Osborn
Eliana Osborn is an associate English professor at Arizona Western College, with degrees from Brigham Young University and Northern Arizona University. She’s published widely in forums such as The New York Times, the Washington Post, the Christian Science Monitor, and the Chronicle of Higher Education.

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