When (virtual) reality meets the classroom
Spurred by a new era of affordable, mainstream virtual reality tools, Indiana University is incorporating VR into high-tech classrooms called Reality Labs
(This article originally appeared in the March 7, 2017, edition of Campus Technology.)
Indiana University (IU) has enjoyed a long and successful history of using virtual reality for research and creative endeavors. Over the past two decades, hundreds of university faculty and students have immersed themselves in 3D environments and virtual simulations. Unfortunately, this work was limited to a handful of spaces, required costly hardware and depended on a small set of shared software resources. Large-format projection systems (taking up hundreds of square feet and costing hundreds of thousands of dollars) and custom applications were common.
Over the past couple of years, virtual reality (VR) has experienced a renaissance. Quality VR display technology is affordable and backed by big tech corporations. Software distribution platforms, such as Steam, allow VR applications to be easily downloaded and installed. These platforms are experiencing growth similar to that of the app stores for mobile devices and have a rapidly expanding selection of downloadable applications and experiences. Plus, modern VR displays no longer require lots of real-world space. The standard configuration consists of a single head-mounted display, connected to a computer via a single cable, as well as two wireless hand controllers.
Excited by these developments, as well as by increased interest among university departments, IU's University Information Technology Services (UITS) team was eager to expand its support for VR. In Q4 2016, leadership decided to incorporate VR technologies into general-inventory classrooms called Reality Labs.