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Virtual Reality: Learning Goes to Higher Level

For students, a class field trip can be a welcome respite from seeing the same four walls of the classroom every day. Education, with an adventure thrown into the bargain.

For teachers, however, it’s a different story. Getting permission slips, rowdy kids, the nightmare scenario of lost children, diet demands for lunch, bus breakdowns… the list goes on. It can make the challenge of taking students who may or may not want to visit a local museum more trouble than it’s worth.

But technology has an answer: virtual reality (VR).

This week, Oculus Rift started shipping its virtual reality device to early buyers – one of the most eagerly anticipated events to date in the industry.

Now, when most people think about virtual reality, what probably springs to mind are videogames – futuristic, animated fantasy worlds where people get to play a super-soldier or some other character.

But “virtual” reality can also transport people from one place to another – for example, from the classroom to a museum.

And this is where the technology has the ability to transform the education sector…

Visit Chicago or London Without Leaving the Room

The leaders in virtual reality – Alphabet Inc. (GOOG), Facebook Inc. (FB), which owns Oculus, and Samsung Electronics Co. Ltd. (SSNLF) already have rudimentary virtual museum tours available for students.

Simply get the Samsung or Google virtual reality device (both are basically just masks that place a smartphone right in front of your face), download the software, and you’re off.

Users can “walk” from room to room, look around, focus on any part of an exhibit, and then get a description of the item.

There are no crowds, no lines, nobody walking between you and a painting, no kids crying that they’re bored and want to go home.

The VR opportunity here is vast. Students (or indeed adults) no longer have to be close to a museum to visit it. A student in Kansas can visit the Field Museum in Chicago or the Courtauld Gallery in London.

But the opportunity – and reward – is even greater for areas of study where a three-dimensional experience is more important. For example, a history class where students now have the ability to move around dinosaur skeletons, ancient temples, or caves.

The difference between reading about events in a book versus being transported to a VR world and actually experiencing them can be transformative.

And as the educational benefits of these virtual exhibits expand, students will be able to go to places that they couldn’t previously go to at all – say, the inside of King Tut’s tomb.

Nokia Kicks Up the VR Experience

While VR has existed for over 50 years, we’re still in the nascent stages of the industry from a consumer standpoint.

With virtual museum tours, for example, the companies that produce them basically wire up several cameras (like GoPros) to a frame, walk the device through a museum, and then stitch together the images.

Pretty rudimentary stuff.

But Nokia Corp. (NOK) has just introduced a device called the Ozo that aims to kick progress to a higher level.

The company claims that this integrated solution is the world’s first purpose-built, professional-quality VR camera. It combines eight high-quality video cameras with studio-quality surround sound microphones.

It’s wireless, too, so it can record separately from the computer equipment and will integrate the camera images and sounds into a complete VR experience. It can even be mounted on a drone.

The Ozo is no toy, though. At $60,000, it’s not a device for average hobbyists. It’s even a pricey outlay for most museums.

But the big benefit is that professional VR producers like Woofbert VR will be able to create VR tours of many more museums. And, of course, it can be used more than once, so they’ll be able to return as exhibits change.

So where does this VR technology put the traditional school field trip?

Virtual Life vs. Real Life

Well, there’s no substitute for actually being physically present at a museum or historical site, of course – both in terms of a cultural experience and life experience. So just as books aren’t going anywhere, school visits aren’t going to disappear anytime soon, either.

But as VR technology expands, these virtual museum tours will be another tool for teachers as they try to connect with students who are themselves digitally savvy. And they’ll be even better tools for older students in high school and college.

The ability to walk through the Parthenon and then through an animated reconstruction of the structure as it was during the height of Athens without ever leaving the classroom could be just the thing that turns a regular project into a real, immersive, interactive understanding of the subject.

To living and investing in the future,

Greg Miller

Greg Miller

, Senior Analyst

View More By Greg Miller