What GDC revealed about VR that could help education
So I wasn’t at the Game Developers Conference (GDC), though of course I wish I was. However, listening to recent podcasts from the Rev VR and Voices of VR has helped me find some tidbits of exciting things coming for VR. One of the Voices of VR episodes (#323) had some interesting comments that are very applicable to the educational realm of virtual reality.
During the episode, the host Kent Bye and his two guests from Road to VR, Ben Lang and Scott Hayden, discuss many demos and their takeaways from the Wednesday session of GDC. Nothing they talked about directly related to the education field but three important factors did come up.
- Multiplayer capability and interaction between users: A quote from the podcast said “games with you and other people are just more fun in VR” and this would definitely be true in a virtual reality education app. Being a science nerd, I immediately thought of doing science labs in VR. In traditional schools, you typically do science labs in groups to gain social skills in working with others and to support one another’s learning. In VR, this multiplayer capability is coming to fruition and would allow students to simultaneously work together in a virtual lab environment. Not only that but the interactions between users are becoming more useful so true group work in VR is not so far-fetched.
- Real Physics reactions: Doing actual science labs in VR should probably involve realistic physics. It certainly makes sense when thinking about students using the virtual environment to learn. You want them to actually learn how objects will react when involving accurate physics. Now I know air resistance, friction, elasticity, and other-things-I-can’t-remember typically may not exist in the virtual world but aren’t physics textbooks always telling us to ignore them anyway? Plus, Kent Bye quotes an Oculus guy saying “physics interactions give us a way to look into the future” and doesn’t everyone want to be able to do that?
- Haptic Feedback: Haptic (or touch) feedback is an important part of the immersive nature of VR. In the science lab example it would be vitally important to feel when one picks up a hot test tube to sense an exothermic reaction or when you accidentally touch the flame of a Bunsen burner. Even primitive haptic feedback could give distinctions between different masses, feeling electric shocks, forces, and many other scientific concepts.
As the VR developer community grows and becomes stronger, we are going to see many more capabilities emerge that could affect education. And while widespread VR adoption in schools is still quite limited with regards to cost (anybody want to design haptic feedback for Google Cardboard?), we can at least see that once schools jump on board it will be amazing. Though it still won’t help you deal with that one lazy guy in the lab group that does no work.