Virtual Reality

Article excerpt

The Virtual Reality and Education Laboratory at East Carolina University

The Virtual Reality and Education Laboratory (VREL) was created in 1992 by Dr. Veronica Pantelidis and Dr. Lawrence Auld in response to a perceived need for a laboratory to study the implications of virtual reality for kindergarten through grade 12 (K-12) education. VREL is administratively attached to the Department of Broadcasting, Librarianship and Educational Technology (BLET), one of eight departments in the School of Education at East Carolina University, Greenville, North Carolina. This paper looks at what we have accomplished during the last seven years and considers a few of the things that we can expect in the future.

Background

VREL began in 1992 with a monochrome Macintosh computer set on a desk in the corner of a departmental computer lab and a donated piece of virtual reality software. Immediately, we began expanding an earlier bibliography that had been compiled on virtual reality and education and putting together a group of handouts on the topic. When VREL moved to a small room of its own, two used computers were added, and the growing number of handouts was now displayed on shelving. The next move, into a classroom, provided seating for 25+ students, and additional computers and pieces of peripheral VR equipment were added. Additional relevant handouts were created, and books and periodicals on virtual reality were displayed. Building renovation forced a move to another, slightly larger classroom. Then, in the fall of 1996, VREL moved into its present space of approximately 875 square feet. Additional computers have been acquired and connected to the Internet, a mid-sized video/computer monitor has been installed, and more examples of hardware and software have been added. An expanded shelving area provides space for more books and periodicals as well as selected files on virtual reality.

We deliberately equipped VREL with an eclectic collection of hardware and software, since one of our objectives has been to provide a variety of types for demonstration. In this way, we can show educators and others what different hardware and software can do, and allow them to compare the relative capabilities, costs and benefits. This is important, because another goal is to assist educators in selecting affordable and accessible virtual reality hardware and software.

Currently, VREL has fifteen desktop computers (both PC and Macintosh) with varying speeds and capacities, mirroring to some extent what is found in schools. Peripheral equipment, used for demonstrating different aspects of virtual reality, includes head-mounted display units, shutter glasses, anaglyphic glasses, a 3-D mouse, a wireless mouse, and gloves. Examples of VR software include MindRender VREK, PC Blox, Superscape VRT-5, 3-D Website Builder, Virtus WalkThrough Pro, Vista Pro and VR Creator, as well as other less well-known software, some free for download from the World Wide Web. Visitors to VREL can quickly see the relative advantages and disadvantages of the various types of VR hardware and software for particular applications.

From the beginning, we adopted an operational definition of virtual reality, a definition that describes our particular area of interest. In this definition we attempted to embrace all possible variations of virtual reality, since we particularly wanted to avoid being limited to a single type of equipment, a single software package, or a single application. After seven years, we find that this approach remains durable and useful.

In our original brochure, we asked, "What is Virtual Reality?" and gave this answer:

      The Virtual Reality and Education Laboratory at East Carolina University
   is dedicated to finding ways to use virtual reality in education. Virtual
   reality is the computer-generated simulation of a real or an imagined
   environment or world. It can be graphics-based (e. … 

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