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Virtual Reality and Augmented Reality in Higher Education

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By Dr. Jarrod Sadulski
Faculty Member, Criminal Justice

Integrating educational technology such as virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) into schools is essential to the advancement of learning in the digital age. Advanced learning platforms through technology are already available and in higher education, their use is catching on.

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Higher education can incorporate VR and AR technology to enhance student learning beyond traditional classroom lectures and online learning environments. Virtual reality, for instance, uses a digital learning environment that immerses students in a 360-degree experience. Students can interact with a different environment and react to stimuli, just as if they were physically present in that environment.

Virtual Reality and Immersive Learning

Virtual reality provides the opportunity for schools to place students directly into a simulated learning environment that uses 3D graphics. San Diego State University Instructional Technology Services, for example, has used virtual immersive teaching and learning since 2017.

Students’ learning is enhanced through the opportunity to interact with 3D graphics in what appears to be a real-world environment. Instead of placing the student or a camera within a physical learning environment, virtual reality places the student in a simulated environment where senses such as vision, hearing, and touch foster learning.

Virtual Reality Technology Can Be Applied to Different Academic Disciplines

Head-mounted displays are common in virtual reality, and simulated learning environments from many different academic disciplines can be used to benefit students. For example, students in a science course can participate in a simulated environment where actual experiments are conducted.

In the same manner, criminal justice students can use virtual reality to learn from simulated environments such as court proceedings and law enforcement scenarios.

The Role of Augmented Reality in Higher Education

Similarly, augmented reality also has a major role in the future of higher education. Augmented reality uses digital information that is superimposed and integrated into someone’s physical environment.

There are some noteworthy differences between virtual reality and augmented reality, however. Where virtual reality completely replaces someone’s field of vision through a head-mounted display, augmented reality only appears on a device such as computer or tablet screen. Even the HoloLens associated with augmented reality projects images in a limited area in front of a learner’s eyes.

Augmented reality can deliver a unique environment to students from the comfort of their homes or classrooms. For instance, augmented reality could place students in a virtual safari within a 3D environment or into other environments using Google’s augmented reality programs.

Google’s AR technology aids can teach students about a range of topics. For example, they can teach students about NASA’s Curiosity Rover and other aspects of space science or help students learn about human or animal anatomy with a greater level of context and scale. Augmented reality is very useful as a visualization tool that places an object or concept into a reality that is otherwise not accessible or difficult to grasp.

Practical Uses of Augmented Reality in Education

The use of augmented reality is already becoming more popular in higher education. For example, first-year medical students at Case Western Reserve University are learning from home through the use of an augmented reality app called HoloLens and HoloAnatomy, created by Case Western Reserve University and Cleveland Clinic. Through 3D learning, medical students are learning about the human body in a way that would otherwise not be possible.

At the University of Rochester, instructors use augmented technology in their science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) laboratories to create a learning environment that was not previously possible. In one example, the University of Rochester used augmented reality to create a hands-on, tactile lab that enabled students to operate a chemical plant. Students could explore placing together multiple reactors with different temperatures to determine the impact of optimizing a chemical reaction.

Overall, virtual reality and augmented reality open the door for new learning formats. VR fosters student creativity and motivates students to learn new knowledge in greater depth. Similarly, augmented reality can be integrated into online courses to enable students to utilize additional sensory skills to build knowledge and retain course content.

About the Author

Dr. Jarrod Sadulski is an associate professor at American Public University. He has been in online higher education since 2009. He has engaged in speaking engagements in the United States, Europe, and Central America on the topic of human trafficking, counter terrorism, police responses to domestic terrorism, and police stress management. Most recently, he presented at the International Human Trafficking Conference. His expertise includes infrastructure security, maritime security, homeland security contraband interdiction and intelligence gathering.

Dr. Jarrod Sadulski is an associate professor in the School of Security and Global Studies at APU. Jarrod was selected as the Coast Guard’s Reserve McShan Inspirational Leadership Award recipient for 2019. His expertise includes infrastructure security, maritime security, homeland security contraband interdiction and intelligence gathering.

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