Taking Virtual Steps into a New College Classroom

By Frank HealyMay 2, 2016

With innovative headsets and tools launching in the marketplace, a virtual world is becoming more and more attainable and accessible. This is especially true in higher ed, where textbooks and lectures are turning into deeply engaging experiences.Here are three main pillars of the new virtual learning environment.

Virtual Reality
In the next 5-10 years, it’s expected that most college classrooms will employ some sort of VR technology to support their teachings, and the barrier to entry will continue to lower. Schools can currently combine concepts like Google Cardboard and a student’s smartphone for a cost-effective VR experience. With various devices and operating systems, there are certainly some considerations to make it accessible to all, but the benefits are worth the effort. Not only are educators able to share aspects of the world that students may never see in their lifetime, they’re able to showcase and teach “in” worlds from previous centuries — ones like ancient Rome that no longer exist.

Applications are vast and quickly expanding. Students can already:

The demand for VR is strong, and the next generation of workers will need to have the skills to develop and innovate in this space. So in addition to changing the classroom learning experience, we’ll also see new degree programs pop up like University of Maryland’s new immersive multimedia design major.

Augmented Reality
AR is a more interactive virtual approach where a user is able to utilize their physical environment to interact with a virtual world in real time. When used in higher ed, AR can completely immerse a student into their field of study and provide a deeper level of training than that of a traditional classroom. AR is especially helpful when preparing students for roles that could have life-or-death consequences, as there are no repercussions in a virtual world.

Examples include:

  • Heavy equipment training
  • Firefighting drills
  • Simulated surgery

Healthcare programs, in particular, find great benefits from AR. According to The National Institutes of Health, 96 percent of studies showed AR has the power to create an authentic experience and improve healthcare education. Benefits include:

  • Decreased failure rates
  • Boosted precision and performance
  • Deeper comprehension of spatial relationships
  • Increased student engagement
  • Accelerated training

Artificial Intelligence
AI has made slower steps into higher education and is often considered as an extension of “personalized learning.” As Bill Gates noted in a recent interview, it may still be considered in its early stages, but early adopters can see program completion rates double.

Here’s how we may see AI take form:

  • Tutoring: The ability to go online and get a personal math tutor for free or a nominal cost.
  • Automated grading: This would allow teachers more time for student interaction.
  • Self-correcting courses: Programs that identify gaps and provide feedback to educators.

Virtual technology is breaking down barriers, shifting traditional teaching roles and extending the physical walls of the college classroom. As we’ve seen in the healthcare programs, these tools are powerful. Without a doubt, VR, AR and AI technologies will continue to have a significant impact on student learning outcomes — and where we stand today, it’s looking pretty promising. 

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