Virtual Learning Environments

Seems like the talk about the potential for virtual reality in education has been going on forever, but the technology hasn’t quite been up to it – until now it seems. I’ve been taking a look at the developments taking place with Sony’s EyeToy for use with Playstation2 – and it seems that here we might just be seeing the emergence of a VR technology in the consumer market that realises the educational potential.

An article on the Ferrago sitereports that there are new releases of software for the EyeToy planned for release this Christmas, including new mini-games Goal Attack and Home Run that will even place the player within 3D environments. Looks promising.

In another sphere, a Toronto company, Jestertek , together with Xperiential Learning Solutions, have developed what they call their Experiential Learning Product Suite which is aimed at people with physical, mental or behavioural disabilities. A recent GlobeandMail article describes how, like Sony’s EyeToy, the Experiential Learning Product Suite uses cameras to capture a person’s image and project it onto a monitor or large screen, combining it in real-time with the computer-generated action.

Using cameras that capture at least 30 frames a second and hardware much more powerful than a game console, the suite can adapt to a player’s physical characteristics and abilities. Sensitivity, speed and range of motion are adjustable, allowing people to control programs with tiny gestures — from a shrug to a toe-twitch — letting a bedridden person see what it’s like to ride a horse, or someone without the use of their hands play a virtual musical instrument.
Worth a look too at the IREX site for examples of their VR rehabilitation games, offering VR acitivites specifically targetting the development of particular muscle groups with coordination exercises.

And in New Zealand there are a number of developments taking place – look for yourself on the Trade and Enterprise site for a list of them! One I am very familiar with is Mark Billinghurst and his team at HitLab . They’ve have done some groundbreaking work with their Magic Book project amongst other things. You can even download some sample movies of what they’re up to from their site.

All in all, the future is looking brighter for educational applications of VR technologies – I say, watch this space!

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