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VR and AR for Higher Education

Over the past few years in particular, more virtual and augmented reality (VR/AR) technologies have been making their way into education, transforming traditional classrooms into immersive learning environments. Let’s uncover how VR/AR is being used specifically in higher education, including its benefits as well as the challenges faced by institutions implementing this technology. 

Toto, I don’t think we’re in the classroom anymore. Hold on to your little dog and your grip on corporeal reality  – today, we’re exploring the state of VR and AR in higher education! 

via Giphy

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Benefits of AR and VR in higher education

The potential of immersive learning with VR and AR in higher education is enormous!  According to a report by the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation (ITIF), immersive technologies have the potential to revolutionize education by offering new ways to deliver content. VR and AR can help students “grasp abstract concepts and gain hands-on experience in low-risk virtual settings,” which has the potential to improve student engagement and increase student achievement. 

This report also highlights the ability of VR and AR to simulate experiences that are either too dangerous, expensive, or impossible to replicate in real life. For example, VR and AR simulations can be used to teach medical students how to perform complex procedures, engineers how to design and test prototypes, and language students how to speak with native speakers

ITIF also notes that immersive technologies can benefit not only learning environments but also education systems as a whole. It highlights the potential of virtual training for teachers to hone their skills before entering a real-world classroom, as well as the potential for immersive solutions to be used for collaboration, communication, and community engagement among administrators and officials.

The bottom line is that VR/AR can provide learning experiences that traditional lectures and textbooks cannot offer, and the level of immersion VR and AR technology offers will only increase as time goes on. As mentioned in this Forbes article, some VR/AR developers are also adding the sense of touch to VR and AR using haptic gloves, and smell, taste, and hearing technologies are predicted to be available in AR and VR training by 2030! 

Specific uses of VR and AR in higher education

Many academic institutions have introduced dedicated spaces that allow students and faculty to access AR and VR devices and develop their own content, such as the Harvard Innovation Labs AR/VR Studio and the University of Michigan XR Initiative. Let’s take a look inside some university AR and VR spaces and see what’s been going on so far in 2023!

First up, the AR/VR Lab is a cutting-edge research facility situated in the Georgia Cyber Center at Augusta University. As a component of the School of Computer and Cyber Sciences, the lab’s primary emphasis is on augmented and virtual realities, eye tracking, and intelligent interfaces. The video below showcases the lab’s various features, research projects, and student engagements.

Next, Arizona State University has recently partnered with Dreamscape Learn to offer an introductory biology course in a virtual reality setting. In this innovative laboratory, students are transported to a new world where they engage with alien species to solve problems related to key course concepts. In the video below, hear students’ thoughts after participating in their first VR biology lesson!

Last in our quick survey of AR and VR in action across colleges, the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa has launched an innovative virtual reality (VR) lab that offers students, faculty, and staff a unique platform to enhance their public speaking skills. This lab, which is operated by the Center for Communicating Scientific Information in the Communicology Program, features innovative technology that enables users to practice their speeches and receive instant feedback. Learn more about it in the news segment below. 

Challenges of implementing AR and VR in higher education

While the possibilities for positive impact are innumerable, the implementation of VR and AR in higher education is not without its challenges. Institutions may face several barriers, including the cost of the technology, the need for specialized expertise in developing content, and the lack of infrastructure to support the technology. Additionally, there is a learning curve associated with using VR and AR, and educators may need to undergo training to effectively incorporate these technologies into their curriculum. 

As discussed in this article from Brookings, there is a risk of creating a digital divide between those who have access to this technology and those who do not. To ensure that all students have access to these immersive learning experiences, institutions may need to invest in resources and infrastructure to support VR and AR. 

Brookings reports that some university students in America are disadvantaged by their lack of access to emerging technologies, particularly AR and VR. Specifically, Minority-Serving Institutions (MSIs) such as Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs), Hispanic-Serving Institutions (HSIs), Tribal Colleges and Universities (TCUs), and community colleges are not always able to access these technologies, due to their cost. 

To mitigate some of these barriers, this article published by EDUCAUSE suggests that institutions start small by focusing on specific use cases where VR/AR can provide the most value. They suggest piloting the technology with a small group of students or faculty, and then scaling up once the benefits have been demonstrated. Additionally, the ITIF report suggests that to overcome financial barriers, institutions must collaborate with industry partners, invest in training their staff, and explore alternative funding models. Similarly, Brookings advocates for partnerships and collaborations to increase opportunities for MSI institutions to implement AR/VR programs for educators and students.

To summarize, VR and AR technologies have the potential to revolutionize the way we teach and learn in higher education. They provide truly interactive and hands-on learning experiences, cater to different learning styles, and provide a safe space for students to practice skills and make mistakes along the way. However, the implementation of VR/AR in higher education requires careful planning and consideration of the cost and expertise needed to create high-quality content. With proper implementation, VR/AR can be a valuable tool in enhancing teaching and learning experiences for undergraduate and graduate level students.

Interested in harnessing the potential of VR or AR for learning or training? We’re educational game developers with 18 years of industry experience. We’ve created XR games for companies like Meta (formerly Oculus) and Publications International. Get in touch with us today!

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