Many studies have revealed that the best learning performance is achievable when a variety of teaching methods are utilized and that different one method might work better than another one when we go from one student to another. To this aim, computers are increasingly being employed as teaching tools to give the students a deeper level of understanding by providing a wider variety of learning experiences. Computer approaches have usually included multimedia presentations, computerized question-and-answer sessions, and some simulations of situations which are too complex, costly, or hazardous to be performed in the real world. A recently emerged computer tool is the “virtual reality” (VR) using which students can have a very deep experience of the subject they learn in a way that is not possible using other methods. “VR is characterized by high degrees of immersion, believability, and interaction, with the goal of making the user believe, as much as possible, that s/he is actually within the computer-generated environment, as opposed to being an external observer looking in. In an ideal virtual world, a user would be completely unable to determine whether they were experiencing a computer simulation or “the real thing.” Virtual reality implementations typically use high speed, high quality three-dimensional graphics, 3-D audio, and specialized hardware such as head-mounted displays and wired clothing to achieve high degrees of realism and believability.”
The main strength of VR is, “not surprisingly, the ability to visualize situations and concepts which could not be otherwise seen and to immerse the student within that visualization. For example, a photo or movie could show students the internal geometry of a reactor, but only VR will allow them to step inside and watch it operate from whatever angle or viewpoint they desire. An animation could illustrate the mechanism of a catalytic reaction but VR provides students with a much stronger sense of “being there”. Student interest and enthusiasm are also obvious benefits of virtual reality. While some of this can be attributed to the novelty of the experience and the general interest that some students have for anything computerized, virtual reality is designed to pull the user into the experience, and anything that we can do to get students more enthused and interested in our subject matter is a good thing, even if the effect is short-lived.” Also, “in terms of learning styles, virtual reality is excellent for reaching the active, visual, inductive and global learners, who are not always served well through traditional teaching methods. There have also been some weaknesses discovered regarding virtual reality as an educational tool, the most significant of which is the presentation of textual information, such as equations, formulas, or definitions. This is due to the fact that virtual reality is very much a graphical environment, rather than a textual one.”
I (writer of the post) had one amazing experience with VR when I was in a workshop. In this VR, they showed us the three-dimensional structure of a very complex molecule with VR. While it is very hard to imagine the shape, it was very interesting and gave me a much deeper grasp of the shape of that molecule.
Reference: Bell, John T., and H. Scott Fogler. “The investigation and application of virtual reality as an educational tool.” Proceedings of the American Society for Engineering Education Annual Conference. 1995.