Virtual Reality & Online Teaching: Are we coming full circle?

vir-tu-al re-al-i-ty (noun)

technology that replicates an environment that simulates physical presence in places in the real world or imagines worlds and let the user interact in that world.

 A few weeks ago, I came across an interesting article* about Virtual Reality (VR) and Facebook’s purchase of Oculus Thirst, maker of the soon to be first consumer bounded –VR gadget with a reportedly “affordable” $1,500 price-tag. When Zuckerberg justified this purchase, he shared his vision of the endless possibilities of this technology stating “Imagine a court side seat at a game, STUDYING IN A CLASSROOM OF STUDENTS AND TEACHERS ALL OVER THE WORLD or consulting with a doctor face-to-face- just by putting on goggles in your home. Virtual reality was once the dream of science fiction”.

This quote got me excited… What if we got it all wrong about online teaching and learning? What if we are working hard to understand how to adapt our teaching to this new medium and the medium it is going to come back, in a full circle, to what it is now physical virtual presence…. Hmm! So would I be back to being “present” in front of my beloved students? And then they would be able to see and virtually interact with each other. How would these classes feel like? Would they be a hybrid between face-to-face and online? Would the rules to build social presence, teaching presence and cognitive presence still apply? How would I keep the students engaged and awake? What would I do synchronous vs. non-synchronous? What will be the role of the universities in this new ecosystem? What will be the role of professors? Would we have to unlearn everything that we have learned about online learning?

There are a few interesting pilots integrating Oculus in face-to-face K-12 and Higher Ed classrooms as an enhancer or substitute for face-to-face class. For instance, students studying anatomy in the classroom can now see a full body in 3D with organs and systems clearly visible to them. What a (re)-evolution from the early days of this science!

Anatomy Lesson of Dr. Tul -Rembrandt
VR back in 1632 – Anatomy Lesson of Dr. Tulp -Rembrandt
Student learning anatomy with VR
Student learning anatomy with VR CC-BY-Jon Mannion

Specifically, in my business classes I can anticipate some virtual tours to some of the organizations, factories and retail spaces we learn about, interviews with founders/CEO, traveling from Camarillo to some of the countries which reality we try to understand (Brazil, China, India, Bangladesh, etc.), experiencing social problems first hand, attending an UN voting or a company press conference…

I’m not sure that I have many answers. While the Oculus, Sony and Amazons of the world keep building their VR devices, let’s go back to our daily challenge of teaching and learning with our students and to figure out how technology can facilitate that process for better. Back to the Present!.

How would you use VR in your class? Explore the possibilities and join the conversation! @TLIatCI

Maria Ballesteros-Sola

Faculty Lead – Online & Blended Community

*Note: you know they are too many “unicorns” out there when Vanity Fair starts reporting on them…


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