What is Virtual Reality?
The definition of virtual reality comes, naturally, from the definitions for both ‘virtual’ and ‘reality’. The definition of ‘virtual’ is near and reality is what we experience as human beings. So the term ‘virtual reality’ basically means ‘near-reality’. This could, of course, mean anything but it usually refers to a specific type of reality emulation.
We know the world through our senses and perception systems. In school we all learned that we have five senses: taste, touch, smell, sight and hearing. These are however only our most obvious sense organs. The truth is that humans have many more senses than this, such as a sense of balance for example.
Everything that we know about our reality comes by way of our senses. In other words, our entire experience of reality is simply a combination of sensory information and our brains sense-making mechanisms for that information. It stands to reason then, that if you can present your senses with made-up information, your perception of reality would also change in response to it. You would be presented with a version of reality that isn’t really there, but from your perspective it would be perceived as real. Something we would refer to as a virtual reality.
Types of Virtual Reality
Several categories of virtual reality technologies exist, with more likely to emerge as this technology progresses. The various types of virtual reality differ in their levels of immersion and also virtual reality applications and use cases. Below, we explore a few of the different categories of virtual reality:
Non-immersive simulations are the least immersive implementation of virtual reality technology. Users enter into these three-dimensional virtual environments through a portal or window by utilizing standard high resolution monitors powered by processing power typically found on conventional desktop workstations.
Semi-immersive simulations simulations closely resemble and utilize many of the same technologies found in flight simulation. it simulations are powered by high performance graphical computing systems, which are often then coupled with large screen projector systems or multiple television projection systems to properly stimulate the user’s visuals.
Fully-immersive simulations provide the most immersive implementation of virtual reality technology. In a fully-immersive simulation, hardware such as head-mounted displays and motion detecting devices are used to stimulate all of a user’s senses. Fully immersive simulations are able to provide very realistic user experiences by delivering a wide field of view, high resolutions, increased update rates (also called refresh rate), and high levels of contrast into a user’s head-mounted display (HMD).
Why Virtual Reality Is So Important
Today, we think of realities like this as ‘digital,’ but meaning is made in our own minds, and you and I are from a time when digital is seen as artificial. What happens when the balance begins to shift–when digital and physical are seen as equally ‘real’? Meaning, in our minds, is as flexible as the reality in a digital space. They are fluid.
Today’s classroom is not much different than one Dewey might have seen. It’s a dated mode with bells and whistles shoe-horned in. Virtual reality in today’s classroom would be like using Google self-driving cars in a NASCAR race. But not far in the future, the potential for virtual reality in education–at least as we conceive it today–might far surpass anything you’ve seen in #edtech so far.
Virtual reality will allow us to create any environment for simulated interactions. Anything. Any machine. Any classroom with any activities for any purpose. It will be the ultimate unclassroom. In fact, the word classroom will stuffed full of the connotation of limitation.