Magazine article Techniques

Send Students Anywhere without Leaving the Classroom: Virtual Reality in CTE: Virtual Reality Aims to Simulate a 3-D Location through Computer-Generated Imagery and to Give Users a Powerful Sense of "Being There," Taking Control, and Interacting Personally with the Environment and Its Contents through One or More Senses Such as Vision, Hearing and Touch

Magazine article Techniques

Send Students Anywhere without Leaving the Classroom: Virtual Reality in CTE: Virtual Reality Aims to Simulate a 3-D Location through Computer-Generated Imagery and to Give Users a Powerful Sense of "Being There," Taking Control, and Interacting Personally with the Environment and Its Contents through One or More Senses Such as Vision, Hearing and Touch

Article excerpt

WHERE WOULD YOU LIKE YOUR STUDENTS TO EXPLORE TODAY? Inside an airplane cockpit, a prototype car, a submarine, or a computer? How about an operating room in a large metropolitan hospital, a late-night emergency response location on a isolated country road, an upscale merchandising outlet in Tokyo, a construction site in New York City, an agricultural experimental station in India, a cutting-edge biotech laboratory in Germany, or a crime scene in Los Angeles? Students in career and technical education (CTE) programs have many environments they need to discover, explore and understand. For CTE teachers, transporting their students to these environments can be difficult, dangerous, or even impossible. However, there is now a way to take students on location anywhere without leaving the classroom. Its name is virtual reality, or VR.

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VR was introduced in the late 1960s as immersive experiences with computer-generated imagery presented through head-mounted displays (HMDs). It now includes several different types of computer-based experiences ranging from fully immersive environments with complex HMD gear and body suits, to realistic PC-based programs. Regardless of hardware and software used, all types of VR aim to simulate a 3-D location through computer-generated imagery and to give users a powerful sense of "being there," taking control, and interacting personally with the environment and its contents through one or more senses such as vision, hearing and touch.

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Uses of VR in Industry and Training

Many occupations require learning so that workers can perform safely in dangerous situations. Because it is extremely realistic, VR creates high levels of active learner involvement with detailed and accurate visual scenes. Thanks to this effectiveness, VR is currently being used for training in high-risk occupations such as law enforcement, military, firefighting, emergency medical response, aviation and space exploration, marine exploration, nuclear energy, hazardous materials handling, dangerous driving situations, mining and railway operations. The emphasis in these VR applications is on letting trainees experience highly realistic simulations of complex, high-risk, and high-cost situations and learning to react rapidly, accurately and safely without endangering personnel or equipment in the training process.

Other industry training programs have reported successful VR applications in such diverse occupations as welding; surgical technology; dentistry; engineering; crime scene investigation and forensics; lathe operation; construction; equipment stress testing; aircraft maintenance; accident investigation and analysis; biotechnology; auto spray painting; forestry equipment operation; and the design and prototyping of cars, submarines, heavy equipment and aircraft.

Immersive VR Is Effective but Expensive

Completely immersive VR technologies that use HMDs, body suits, complex computer programs, and special room-size spaces to physically surround learners in 3-D environments are especially effective. One of the more common of these technologies is the Cave Automatic Virtual Environment (CAVE) system. In CAVEs, the illusion of physical immersion in a scene is created by projecting stereo images on the walls and floor of a room-size cube. Participants wearing stereo glasses enter and walk freely within the CAVE room, and a head-tracking computer continuously adjusts the stereo image projection to the current position of the viewer. CAVEs and their portable versions (called ROVRs), in which stereo images are projected on a large screen and manipulated by users wearing special glasses to create the illusion of 3-D, can produce extremely realistic learning experiences. Similarly, augmented reality (AR) systems combine the viewing of real-world or video-based environments with superimposed 3-D virtual objects than can be manipulated by learners. …

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