For many years, the world of virtual reality existed only on movie screens and in the imaginations of futurists. However, with technology moving at breakneck pace, virtual reality is becoming more and more common in the classroom, including in Blair’s science classrooms in Bogle Hall.
This fall, marine science teacher Rod Gerdsen and biology teacher Caroline Chamberlain utilized the HTC Vive and the Oculus virtual reality systems to give their students an up-close and personal experience of life in the ocean and the intricate workings of a cell. In the HTC Vive program “Ocean Rift,” students are placed on an underwater coral reef, where they swim around and interact with dolphins, whales, moray eels and sea turtles. The Oculus Rift program “InCell” allows students to discover the structure and function of organelles and manipulate them on the cellular level, experimenting with different variables to see the outcomes.
To experience the virtual reality scenarios, students headed to Bogle 311 where they donned a high-res headset and grasped ergonomically designed handheld controllers. Two small base stations emitted timed infrared pulses that were picked up by the headset and controllers with sub-millimeter precision as the students navigated the 360-degree world projected before their eyes. Physically, they were moving about in a 15-by-15-foot area in the classroom, but virtually, they were in the ocean or inside the human body.
Using the virtual reality program helped marine biology student Aidan Donaghy ’19 “see what we’re learning in a whole new way,” while Sarika Pyreddy ’19 praised the experience as “really just incredible.” “I was so deep in the ocean, I couldn’t see any light, but there were so many bioluminescent fish,” she said. “I was able to get up close to the fish and see them from a few inches away.”
Mr. Gerdsen noted that bringing virtual reality technology into the classroom gives students exciting opportunities to explore environments they’d never normally experience, like the nucleus of a cell or the deck of a sunken ship 60 feet below the ocean. “The academic applications of virtual reality systems extend far beyond the sciences,” he added. “Imagine studying history by walking through a battlefield as the War of 1812 rages around you or creating a three-dimensional gallery of images for your AP art portfolio. These fascinating experiences will hopefully inspire students to take a deeper look into science, history, art or any subject.”