Virtual-reality field trips give students advanced adventure

NEW YORK — On a February afternoon in a Brooklyn classroom, 16-year-old Taylor Engler came face to face with a cow. But it was all in her head.

A virtual reality headset had transported the Berkeley Carroll School junior and eight classmates to an upstate New York farm 250 miles (402 kilometres) away. For students, the technology means field trips are no longer limited by the length of a bus ride.

“I was not expecting it to be right in my face!” Taylor said after peeling off the purple headset and finding herself back in the confines of her city classroom.

On any given day, students nationwide are deep-sea diving, observing medical operations, even swimming through the human circulatory system using gadgets that are becoming increasingly accessible in both cost and content.

At the least, teachers say, it’s another way to engage the iPhone generation of students. At best, it can enhance their understanding and improve their grades.

“It instantly grabs the students,” said Colin Jones, who teaches science in the Plainview-Old Bethpage Central School District. He has used a system called zSpace to dissect cells and has walked goggled students through the boreal forest with a Google app called Expeditions.

“It’s something that can be done in a period or two,” he said, “when it could take even a week sometimes when you’re doing a lab.”

In Brooklyn, Engler and classmates virtually walked through barns and fields in Watkins Glen, stretching arms toward videotaped pigs and cows only they saw. It was an “outing” that otherwise would not have happened, adviser Lily Adler said, given the constraints of time and staffing.

“It’s different than watching video because you can have more than one perspective; you can actually move,” Taylor said during the lesson by animal rights group Farm Sanctuary.

Not only move, but also feel, said Richard Lamb, who at the University at Buffalo Neurocognition Science Lab studies how the brain processes information. In the lab, the physical effects of virtual reality become clear as subjects standing on solid ground teeter on stories-high virtual scaffolding or experience motion sickness without moving.

“Some of the research we’re doing has actually shown that what you experience in virtual reality has very similar, if not the same, physiological responses that you would get if you were doing the actual activity,” Lamb said. “Heart rate, cognition, breathing, everything.”

The effect on learning, he said, is to improve interest, understanding and recall.

It’s unknown how many …read more

Source:: Nationalpost

      

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