Exploiting Virtual Reality Techniques in Education and Training: Technological Issues
5. Conclusions and Recommendations
Within the higher education community there has been an increase in the use of information technology such as multi-media with considerable successMulti-media based systems provide the student with a very rich source of educational material in a form that makes learning exciting. VR has extremely wide application across a whole range of disciplines and the enabling technology has reached a sufficient level of maturity for it to be seriously applied to education, training and research in higher education. VR systems until fairly recently have not had the performance to be seriously considered for anything other than research tools. The costs associated with a VR system have been prohibitive for educational establishments (this is still true for fully immersive VR systems) but recent technological developments in computer hardware and software now make it feasible to look at VR as an important aid.
5.2 Key Benefits of VR to Education Providers
It is certain that the flexibility provided by a VR system will be a major attraction to the educational community. Even though the cost of entry is quite high compared to conventional multi-media systems (at the moment) this is quickly offset when one considers the different applications it can support. It is not too difficult to imagine a time when one day laboratories will be replaced by a number of VR systems where experiments can be performed. The major difference being the VR based laboratory will be able to support chemistry, physics and engineering sessions instead of being single discipline.
It is predicted that greater use will be made of desk-top VR systems (including VRML) in the first instance followed by partial immersion VR systems. In the latter case, lecture theatres will be adapted to support wide screen representations. Finally, fully immersive systems will be introduced but only when acceptable head coupled displays become available at reasonable cost.
The introduction of VR based systems will lead to many key benefits including:
There are other factors which have to be considered and include:
- Upgradeability - in terms of supporting different applications
- Provision of a sense of presence which is important in many educational contexts
- Enable High degree of interaction which is important to aiding understanding
- Facilitates 3D interaction and visualisation
- Can achieve a sense of true scale in 3D environments which is extremely important in fields such as architecture.
- Inherently safe - meaning that there are less restrictions on showing students the implications of exceeding certain experimental limitations
- Access to situations that would otherwise be dangerous
- Situations where observation of internal workings/structure is important to aid understanding
- Situations where interaction is important to aid understanding
- Applications which are so complex that conventional teaching methods are inadequate
- Effect on human resources employed to support teaching
- Cost of infrastructure to support conventional teaching
- Cost of infrastructure to support workshop or laboratory access
- Cost of provision of teaching material (current and VR based)
- Effectiveness of the VR approach
There is an urgent need to develop new skills in the application of VR concepts to higher education. In particular, the benefits that a VR system offers should be quantified against more traditional methods of teaching. Some of the main issues needing urgent attention include:
- Cost of entry
- Technology obsolesence
- Technology independance in terms of the software tools
- Interaction in a 3D environment is problematical with 2D devices such as a mouse
- Quantifying the teaching benefit - linking this to demonstration that people actually learn better in virtual environments will accelelerate its role in higher education
- Urgent need for education based VR authoring tools. Current tools may e good for creating virtual environments and object databases but these need to be linked to a carefully structured training programme.
There are many research issues that need further investigation. Many of these are generic to the application of VR systems and it is envisaged that these will be solved for other applications. Specific research issues that relate to the application of VR to education include:
- Human factors
- Defining performance requirements of the enabling technology
- Quantifing performance of VR as an educational tool
- How to make effective use of virtual environments in an educational context
- Need good educational tools
5.5 Risk Factors
There are a number of risk factors that must be considered:
- Pace of technological development - educational establishments will not be able to afford the cost of keeping up with the pace of technological development
- Learning/training transfer must be quantified to justify the initial high cost of entry
Virtual Environments Visualisation