Virtual Reality and the Evolution of Learning Environments

By Charinee Chantarasak, Jamie Graham and Ryan Iskandar
Students, College of Science, Engineering and Technology

Posted on May 31, 2019  in  [ Engineering & Technology ]

Imagine an immersive environment where students can step into a real-life laboratory and have access to millions of dollars’ worth of equipment at their fingertips to conduct research. Students and all users could see processes and scenarios that are tangibly impossible to bring into the physical classroom.

Imagine transferring that environment into a courtroom setting, recreating crime scenes objectively for the jury to relive by visually seeing what is possible from multiple perspectives. What would it be like to visually recreate car collisions with computational calculations, proving an objective account of what happened from both participating cars and 3rd party witnesses, based from evidence? Virtual reality makes this possible and is shaping our learning environment today.

At Grand Canyon University, a Computer Science Research Design Project (RDP) team is partnering with the forensic science department to recreate a more immersive crime scene lab simulation for students to provide students better analysis and examination opportunities.

Working with cutting edge hardware technology, the HTC Vive Pro, as well as Microsoft’s HoloLens, there is potential to reshape the education experience through immersion of real world and virtual world through “true-to-life precise tracking, ultra-vibrant colors and uber-realistic sounds create a world that transports you to any scene in split seconds (HTC Vive Pro).” Spatial mapping provides the real-life experience that the education process is missing today, with large-scale tracked areas and multiuser VR potential.

A Better Alternative – Virtual Reality

Virtual reality is becoming a staple in today’s society as new technological advances are being discovered and implemented into almost everything we use. Specifically, our education system has changed significantly in the past 30 years. Anything known was written down on paper and it was difficult to circulate information quickly. After the World Wide Web was invented in 1990 by Tim Berners-Lee, the possibilities of creation became endless (Andrews, 2013).

Fast-forward to 2018 and every educational system is fully adapted to using the Internet to communicate since nearly everyone has their own personal laptop or has access to a computer. This alone gave way to a new style of learning and helped students access information faster and easier. However, now that virtual reality is entering the scene, students can now benefit even more with an enhanced user experience.

Before, students read from a textbook or a website to learn about history or accomplish a task. Suppose you are expected to dissect a crime scene, which includes finding fingerprints, taking photos, collecting samples, etc. Most students would never get the chance to practice this until they are fully employed where they may fail and possible lose their job.

Now, virtual reality gives students a chance to be involved with what they are doing without the fear of failure in the future. Also, creating a simulation in virtual reality allows for easy practice in multiple scenarios and no clean-up or set-up period. Another example is a research study conducted in China, where four individuals created a computer-based virtual reality method that will digitally reconstruct traffic accidents (Jiao, Miao, Zhang, Zhao, 2018). Those reconstructions could potentially be used in court situations and better help the jury come to an accurate verdict.

In order to produce an experience like this, one would need a virtual reality headset and software. An example is the HTC Vive Pro and Unity 3D, both of which are being used in the current project. The HTC Vive Pro is a virtual reality headset that comes with two controllers and two motion sensors that track you and the space you are moving in. Unity 3D is a piece of software that allows people to create virtual environments used in virtual reality machines. With these two pieces of equipment and dedicated hard work, anything imaginable is possible.

Reshaping the Learning Experience in Forensic Science

Currently, the forensic science education experience doesn’t have rely on a lot of software, but physical measurements and photographs. As described by one Grand Canyon University forensic science student, “We don’t have access to all of the equipment available in forensic science, but use simulations to pinpoint objects based on our calculations,” the RDP project aims to fill in the missing holes to bring access to the inaccessible in educational environments.

The idea of the project is to create a simulation environment where students can experience their crime scene labs hands-on. Through usage of the HTC Vive Pro, students could visualize virtual images that make up the lab, virtually identify evidence, photograph it by a pinch of the fingers, and package their analysis. Based upon either factual or fictitious data, forensic computer-aided three-dimensional (3D) models and animation can accurately project crime or accident scenes to viewers in various points in time, either in the classroom or in courtroom setting. They will be able to see multiple perspectives in simulation.

In the classroom, students could relive crime scenes as labs and interact with virtual elements in real time. Then by quick change of perspective, students could visualize the perspective of the criminal versus the victim, or a third-party spectator, or each from perspective of a bullet flying through the air. With potential to replay scenarios and work with evidence, students could see real-life forensic science examples first-hand through all of the steps from examination to interpretation.

The Upcoming Revolution in Higher Education

Virtual Reality provides many additional functionalities outside of regular textbooks and observing physical objects. Virtual reality allows high-impact hands-on learning experience. For instance, some of K-12 programs are using VR as part of their lessons to give a more realistic demonstration rather than looking at slides. Students get to have the experience as if they are walking on the Great Wall of China, but in reality, they are still at the opposite side of the world. Another example of how Virtual reality will fundamentally change the way of learning is the U.S. military.

They are already using Virtual Reality as part of their combat training. Soldiers are able to have a realistic expectation of what the battlefield would be like without harming themselves. The training can include sharpshooting, parachuting, diving, etc. Surgical students are now using Virtual Reality to practice performing surgeries. (Adams, 2016) It decreases the risks of injuring real patients and have a more realistic experience than performing a surgery on a robot patient.

If forensic science students get the experience of Virtual Reality, this might change the course of how forensic science is taught. Some high technology tools that are used in the forensic science field are not accessible in a classroom, because of various reasons, such as costs. As a result, students would not get the chance to experience those tools before going into a real-world situation.

Nonetheless, with Virtual Reality, students would get to experience using the tools in the simulation and get the feel of how professional tools work, which eventually makes students more employable once they graduate. Moreover, Virtual Reality can help make the instructor’s role easier. Virtual Reality can connect to a database to answer students’ questions about the course and can include a tutorial and help student’s walkthrough the course.

Virtual Reality is changing the way of learning. The next generations might not think of the word “textbooks” the same way that people do now. If we take a look at how far educational technology has come, from paper textbooks to e-books, and to interactive simulations, we can predict that it can go even beyond what Virtual Reality is today. Eventually, when Virtual Reality is becoming more affordable for every household, it might change the concept of “textbooks”. Every school might have VR headsets as a part of their resources. Soon enough, computers won’t be the only necessity for school. Virtual Reality can become the new definition of textbook.

With the increasing power and reduced cost of the VR building blocks, such as the HoloLens and HTC Vive Pro, we have all of the tools to create an authentic, believable experience that can change a variety specific target domain. There are many future applications for where virtual reality can shape how we experience crime scenes and perform data forensic analysis that this project can lead to— within the data forensic education department at Grand Canyon University and beyond.

To learn more about the flexible and affordable degree programs offered through the College of Science, Engineering and Technology, visit our website or click the Request More Information button on this page.

References

  • Adams, R. (2016, October 17). Five Ways Virtual Reality Will Change The World. Retrieved From https://www.forbes.com/sites/robertadams/2016/10/17/5-ways-virtual-reality-will-change-the-world/#5dacecc12b01
  • Andrews, E. (2013, December 18). Who invented the internet? Retrieved October 15, 2018, from https://www.history.com/news/who-invented-the-internet
  • Jiao, P., Miao, Q., Zhang, M., & Zhao, W. (2018). A virtual reality method for digitally reconstructing traffic accidents from videos or still images. Forensic Science International. https://doi-org.lopes.idm.oclc.org/10.1016/j.forsciint.2018.09.019
  • VIVE Pro | The professional-grade VR headset. (2018). Retrieved from https://www.vive.com/us/product/vive-pro/

About College of Science, Engineering and Technology

The College of Science, Engineering and Technology offers degree programs that prepare students for high-demand professions in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) fields. With an emphasis on Grand Canyon University’s Christian worldview, our college believes in instilling social awareness, responsibility, ethical character and compassion. Our blog, Brain STEM, focuses on topics related to science, engineering and technology, with engaging contributions from students, staff and faculty. On the blog, you can find helpful resources relating to STEM fields and learn more about current events occurring globally, locally and within GCU. We hope to provide our readers with information that helps them learn about the necessary knowledge, skills and mental disciplines to succeed in today’s job market.


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