For most students in high school, our experiences out in the world outside of Cape Girardeau or Missouri are limited. In the classroom we learn about cultures and places, but exploration is limited to things we can experience second hand. Virtual Reality (or VR) headsets have the ability to completely immerse you in a whole new place and provide you with experiences you may never have in your lifetime.
Attempts at VR are not a modern idea or invention, in fact, attempts began as early as the 1930s. In 1957, significant progress was made in transporting individuals by limiting their visual scope in an effort to be immersive. Morton Heiling, a cinematographer, invented the sensorama – a spinning theater cabinet in which viewers could peer through, obstructing their normal view, in an effort to focus on a singular set of moving images. He even included oscillating fans for touch and sound, included music, and had a machine emit smells. Now this a device we might laugh at today if we saw it, but I bet someone from that time period would laugh at the idea of a full headset covering your face.
The Oculus released headsets in 2010 and in 2020 released the Oculus 2. This new round features upgraded performance and a lower price point. Some of the first experiences we tried were “fun” games and not necessarily educational. These games included: Beat Saber, riding roller coasters, and watching a Jurassic Park experience. One experience we really enjoyed was Tripp, it is mindfulness app that focused on breathing and soothing sounds and visuals. It really calmed you down and could have numerous practical uses for individuals who need a minute to pull themselves together.
A major issue would be the risk of motion sickness. Several students had to take a break or could not participate in certain experiences because it made them feel ill. Oculus’ website recommends that a person take motion sickness medicine and to consult a doctor if they play and have persistent issues.
The educational uses seem to be growing in the world of VR. It creates a virtual world and experience that users can interact with and feel in awe of. Let’s say you are reading Animal Farm and have no idea how big a Berkshire boar was- well VR can change that, or you are reading about a different place geographically – immersive Google Maps or Samsung’s Spaces can take you there. There are lot of 3D drawing apps, such as Tilt Brush and even an experience where you are on the International Space Station. One of the most interesting experiences was Notes on Blindness. It is a recording that shows you what being blind is like for some. It was wild. The sound set up for it was something we had never experienced and was trying its best to mimic how sound develops differently for those who depend on it more. It was visually dark and beautiful experience and worth it.
As VR technology and systems become more commercially available and accessible, more and more individuals will get to experience unique virtual journeys. They will pop up in more classrooms, in homes, and even in doctor’s offices – as the devices are integrated into everyday learning, entertainment, and health care. Central Academy was lucky enough to get one through our teacher, Ms. DeWitt’s participation in Cape School’s EdTech program.