What is Virtual Reality?


Virtual reality (VR) refers to computer-generated environments that simulate the physical presence of people and/or objects and realistic sensory experiences. At a basic level, this technology takes the form of 3D images that users interact with and manipulate via mouse and keyboard. More sophisticated applications of virtual reality allow users to more authentically feel the objects in these displays through gesture-based and haptic devices, which provide tactile information through force feedback. While enabling people to explore new environments has compelling implications for learning, to date, virtual reality has been most prominently used for military training. Thanks to advents in graphics hardware, CAD software, and 3D displays, virtual reality Is becoming more mainstream, especially in the realm of video games. Oculus VR, a company focused on designing virtual reality products, is developing the heavily-anticipated Oculus Rift, a head-mounted display for gameplay to make the game environments and actions more lifelike. As both games and natural user interfaces are finding applications in classrooms, the addition of virtual reality can potentially make learning simulations more authentic for students.


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(1) How might this technology be relevant to the educational sector you know best?
  • As we are seeing with trends in immersive journalism, virtual reality is becoming a powerful way to bring traditional storytelling and progressive pedagogical practices alive. It can provide avenues for creating empathy by placing audiences and visitors at the scene of an event. VR holds the promise for simulating challenges--making you feel as if you are there--and through immersion serving as a catalyst for creative problem solving and critical thinking. Virtual reality is the ultimate expression of "you are there", which is an interpretive struggle for museums as more and more professionals increasingly aim to create immersive experiences focusing on a work of art that builds bridges (or in some way dissolve realities) between the museum walls and a different context. - emily_fry emily_fry Feb 23, 2016 - jfoley jfoley Feb 29, 2016
  • Virtual Reality has the potential to transform the museum experience through the creation of stimulating environments that place the individual in the exhibit. These environments can allow individuals to feel as if they are part of history through interaction and visualizing a 3-deminsional world that brings the museum experience to life.- emily emily Feb 23, 2016
  • The potential to tell stories around collections and exhibitions with VR is incredible and something museums should be looking to incorporate in their visitor experience. We provide context to object, to histories, and allowing people the opportunity to "step into" history is a game changer for our sector. - ryand ryand Feb 24, 2016 - jfoley jfoley Feb 29, 2016
  • Scholarly study of physical spaces and cultural heritage in the context of those spaces could be radically transformed. The reduction in the expense that might prevent a scholar from visiting a site could have a huge impact and increase contributions on subject matter for which a scholar might have something less than a primary professional interest or necessity to consider "inaccessible" subject matter. VR documentation of heritage sites that are endangered could provide critical support for preservation and conservation where change/degradation over time, or the kind of cultural record that outlives destruction of an object or site (think Palmyra or the Buddhas of Bamiyan) - njohnson njohnson Feb 25, 2016 - jfoley jfoley Feb 29, 2016
  • A combination of a "running" video and interactivity (360 view) coud be very useful for museums since it offers both non-interactive and interactive experience - so that a user can choose an experience according to his/her tech-savvy. Example: Speed across the Jakku desert from Star Wars: The Force Awakens with this immersive 360 experience created exclusively for Facebook. https://www.facebook.com/StarWars/videos/1030579940326940/?fref=nf - kaja kaja Feb 27, 2016
  • I see a lot of interesting potential here, particularly in history and science museums, for the new VR headsets that will be coming on the market in the next twelve months. I recently demo'd some VR stuff happening in LA and was particularly fascinated by a VR "reenactment" of the first flight by the Wright Brothers. You had to duck when the plane flew over your head...a small thing, but the entire experience was memorable and made a piece of history come alive. In the art museum space, I can see it being useful for recreating the site specific nature of, say, a Renaissance altarpiece, or a Mayan artifact taken from a 7th century temple. I also think it will take a while to see how it all shakes out, and whether the game space and the porn space overwhelm all other aspects of the technology, and whether anyone comes up with multi-threaded narrative and cinema. No idea, but I'm quite curious about it. - weberj weberj Feb 27, 2016
  • I think this technology can be relevant as a means to being more accessible to individuals that fall into ADA categories. For instance those that can't physically come to the museum, but also for those that really need to better understand what to expect before they go into a new experience, such as those on the Autism spectrum. - heathermarie.wells heathermarie.wells Feb 29, 2016 +1 - njohnson njohnson Feb 29, 2016
  • For museums, VR has potential for pushing the museum experience to people to people who are not present, and "pulling" in content to people who are in the museum. I think "push" is problematic for many kinds of museums. For many art, history, science museums, a virtual visit to the museum per se may be the least interesting application--VR might better be used to (re)create other times and places. It may work for best for historic houses, historic sites and botanic gardens, where the physical space is significant in and of itself. Even then, the twist VR introduces is the ability to experience a house at different times in its history, and interact with the residents, or be immersed at an historic site in the midst of the events that made history. "Pull" content inside the museum can provide the immersive context for the bits and pieces that the museum displays. The major barriers (beyond cost), are the clunky nature of the current rigs, and the isolating nature of the experience. But as the gear becomes lighter (and less expensive), and more experiences become "shared," as multiple users can interact in a virtual environment, this may provide a very compelling addition to the real stuff. And this content can be converted to "push" content for non-visitors as well. - elizabeth.merritt elizabeth.merritt Mar 1, 2016

(2) What themes are missing from the above description tat you think are important?
  • As filmmakers such as Nonny De La Pena have suggested, there is a rising concern for best practices or code of ethics needed when it comes to producing and implementing virtual reality experiences. She says, "How real is virtual reality intended to be? Where's the line between actual event and the producer's artistic license?". Museums will be called upon deciphering how much is too much in recreating experiences and how can staff be better equipped to develop or think about virtual reality as an interpretive tool for audience engagement. - emily_fry emily_fry Feb 23, 2016
  • I think its worth noting that Google cardboard, inexpensive VR camera rigs, and supporting software and services is offering a lower barrier to entry in a highly technical endeavor compared to full-blown Oculus or dome-based VR experiences. While still expensive and technically challenging, access to this "second wave" of VR in service to cultural heritage (the first was in the 90s via Quicktime VR, etc.) has been democratized in dramatic ways. - njohnson njohnson Feb 25, 2016 - jfoley jfoley Feb 29, 2016
  • I have been told that there are some viable low tech ways to do VR headset production, but whether they end up looking "competitive" in a field dominated by user expectations created by high end applications remains to be seen.- weberj weberj Feb 27, 2016
  • An interesting perspective is its potential to democratize access to cultural/heritage experiences that are exclusive in their analogue form. How many of us will ever get to go inside the pyramids of Giza or dive the Great Barrier Reef? These are experiences allotted only to a select few, but with VR everyone can gain access. At the same time, VR is a way to reduce wear and tear of physical heritage sites that can be fragile and at risk of deteriorating because of cultural tourism (like the Great Barrier Reef), and thus a tool for heritage protection - Merete.Sanderhoff Merete.Sanderhoff Feb 29, 2016 +1 - njohnson njohnson Feb 29, 2016

  • I do think there is a lot of potential in VR, but in terms of the museum experience, am still not sure how this is going to work well with headsets. More than half of visitors to museums cite social experience as being their number one motivator for visiting, so the cordoning off of headsets seems like it could have a problematic impact on that experience. - jfoley jfoley Feb 29, 2016
  • I can't agree more with Merete about VR democratizing access. I also think it is important to note that just as Google cardboard is lowering the barrier for end-users, as Google expands their Cultural Institute creating VR experiences is becoming easier for cultural institution. Sometimes the biggest barrier is to equipment that may not make sense for a cultural institution to own, particularly smaller organizations that may struggle with budget and resources. - heathermarie.wells heathermarie.wells Feb 29, 2016
  • 1) the advent of very low cost VR devices such as Google Cardboard, which make simple VR very accessible. 2) the beginnings of VR journalism as a form of immersive, compelling storytelling (which is one short jump from more formal educational content) 3) the growing research on the potential of VR as a powerful "empathy engine."- elizabeth.merritt elizabeth.merritt Mar 1, 2016
(3) What do you see as the potential impact of this technology on teaching, learning, or creative inquiry?

  • Virtual reality has the ability to impact audience learning and creative engagement in new and exciting ways. It has the ability to be used as an interpretive layer in an exhibition, connecting audiences closer to a context that dissolves time or geographical boundaries. It can also be used as an experience tool for those unable to come to the museum or event. Artists also will likely delve into this technology commanding a new type of viewing experience and interaction with an entirely new medium. VR also holds the potential to create personalized worlds or a customized experience, aspects Museums struggle to define when imagining ways in which to tailor experiences to an array of audiences and learning styles. - emily_fry emily_fry Feb 23, 2016
  • Immersive experiences in museums are not new, dioramas are a classic example. VR brings it to the next level, the potential for learning in the museum and outside is vast. Travel to Ancient Egypt while visiting the Egyptian collection, etc, etc. Emily has a good point about artistic license above and I think this is where museums can step in and work with the private sector to provide a powerful and immersive learning experience. - ryand ryand Feb 24, 2016
  • I think there is considerable potential here. I'm more excited by this technology and its relevance to museum learning than most of the things I've seen for the past couple of decades. But it could all fizzle or get sidetracked.... - weberj weberj Feb 27, 2016
  • There is a lot of potential here in terms of teaching, learning, etc.-- bringing people into the experience of an object's place of origin is amazing, and has the potential to bring the object to life for the learner. Will be interesting to see how this develops. - jfoley jfoley Feb 29, 2016

(4) Do you have or know of a project working in this area?

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