Saturday, March 29, 2008

Virtual Reality--educational tool?

It's here to stay and far reaching possibilities already realized and for the future too: "Virtual Reality" technology. It's entertainment and a wonderful educational tool. I can't respond to the entertainment side for I don't get involved in the gaming part, but from an educational perspective there is a wealth of positive interaction. It shouldn't be used as a substitute for "real" experience but as an amendment or "in addition to". A couple of examples come into mind such as "flight simulators" and many of the sciences. My days in college are totally alien to current practices. Students used "grams" and real laboratory apparatus for experiments; bench top physics experiments ruled for every student, we all had frogs to dissect--now, everything is measured on the micro scale, bench top practices have disappeared to be performed by the professor, and there is the "virtual" frog. Now, some of this is good and stems from economics, safety, liability, environmental, etc. But, in the final analysis, there is no substitution for the "hands on" actual performance of scientific experiments. You achieve a "feel" for the experimental process: The set up of the procedure, the careful examination of the experiment in progress, cautionary clues of awareness, the sense of hearing, sight, and smell. None of the "virtual reality" science programs allow the sounds of physics experiments, the smell of hydrogen sulfide, the sting of a drop of nitric acid on the skin, or the pungent aroma of the formaldehyde preservative. Perhaps in the future all sensory experience will be available. Interesting to note that in the Fall 2004 of Sieman's Corporation report "Picture of the Future" is an article on "virtual reality"--"Living Mentor" by, Arthur F. Pease. This involves the use of hiptic gloves, 3D headsets, and navigation devices. It is dubbed as the "Center for Living Memory" whereby many venues may be explored. The specific example [Professor Carnadine's pet project] was a visit to an Egyptian room where there was complete interfacing and interlacing of the participants with the "virtual reality" scene: Objects were held with utmost reality, coffins opened and mummies came to life, and, best of all, there was dialog with Ramses II's principal wife Queen Nefertari [ca. 1290 B.C.] believe it? A simulated encounter in 2035...sorry, not yet available. Beyond the entertainment factor, what do you think of "virtual reality" as an educational tool?

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