Virtual reality: What is the state of play in education?
The term 'virtual reality' (VR) is currently used to describe a range of computer-based systems in which a user can explore a hardware and software generated 'microworld' that bears some resemblance to reality. An early application of such systems was the flight simulator used to train pilots. However, it is in the area of hi-tech games that many of the more recent developments in this field have occurred. Typically, a user will wear a helmet containing either a small video screen positioned in front of each eye, or a device that projects images directly onto the user's retinas. She might also wear an elaborately wired glove that provides tactile feedback as she attempts to physically interact with the computer-generated visual environment. It was on devices and systems of this nature that our proposed investigation was to concentrate. Although this has remained the case, we have expanded our work to also include VR that mainly uses screen-based graphics - thus reflecting the expanded definition of VR (more of which later).
Our overall aim was to determine the nature and capabilities of VR devices and systems that have already been developed, and of those that are under development; and to investigate the educational and instructional uses to which these devices and systems are already being put and to which they may be put in the near future. In this regard it was not our intention to argue the case for VR in education - indeed, in some cases we would do quite the contrary - but to provide relevant information, and what we hoped would be enlightened discussion, so that educators in different situations could make up their own minds on the issues.
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