Yiyu Cai, Associate Professor and Director, Strategic Research Program, Virtual Reality, Nanyang Technological University
In March 2014, Facebook announced the USD$2 Billion acquisition of the Oculus Rift VR. In Jan 2015, Microsoft revealed its Augment Reality product HoloLens. 2016 is considered The Year of Virtual Reality (VR).VR, however,is not new. Back to the mid of 1960s, Ivan Sutherland, the inventor of the first Head Mounted Display (HMD), described “The screen is a window through which one sees a virtual world. The challenge is to make that world look real, act real, sound real, feel real”.
Among countless industries clamoured involving with VR, the education sector is becoming the new frontier of VR application. Over the past decade, we have been actively doing VR research and development focusing on VR-enabled Learning and Teaching.
VR-enabled Immersive and Interactive Learning
Singapore’s Ministry of Education (MOE) introduced several schemes including “Teach Less, Learn More”to promote innovative learning. In 2004, Hwa Chong Institution (HCI) and River Valley High School (RVHS) became the first two schools in Singapore setting up their VR Labs in their campuses. In 2008, Singapore’s Ministry of Education, and Infocomm Development Authority (IDA) initiated the FutureSchools@Singapore (FS@SG) program as part of the MOE’s Third Master plan for ICT in Education(2009–2014). The FutureSchools projects explore expanding learning possibilitieswith virtual learning environments and other education technology that allow teacher–student interaction， online assessments, and monitoring of students’ progress.VR-enabled Immersive and Interactive Learning was adopted in FS@ HCI. In particular, VR native content for curriculum based learning of mathematics and biology were designed and developed for the use in their daVinci VR Lab.For instance, HCI students can transport themselves to the tiny world of cells, molecules or DNA to learn cell divisions, protein transcriptions, and viral infection. VR technology is also developed to assist HCI students learning trigonometry, shortest distance and skew lines, and vectors, etc. In addition, 5-day 3D Sabbatical programsare organised every term for HCI students to gain hands-onexperience in innovative VR design of their own Star Warships, Formula One Cars, and so on using the same daVinci VR Lab.
Research has been conducted jointly by HCI and Nanyang Technological University to examine the benefits of VR technology for immersive and interactive learning with the daVinci VR Lab. About 250 students from 7 different schools were invited to participate in the control or experiment studies (traditional “chalk and talk” method versus VR method).Data of pre-test and post-test from control and experiment groups were analyzed using statistical method including two factorial analysis of covariance (two-way ANCOVA). A second two-way ANCOVA was also carriedout to compare the pre-test versus post-test scores of male and female students. Results show the mean experimental group measure is statistically significantly higher than the mean control group measure at post-test which indicates that the VR exercises are effective in improving Molecular Biology achievement scores. Overall, the intervention effect of VR in Molecular Biology resulted in significantly higher achievement measures for the experimental group. Interestingly, data show also malesperform statistically significantly better than females in terms of achievement.
Apart from Biology Learning, RVHS students use the daVinci VR Lab for safety and security education, as well as scientific research projects. These co-curriculum works helped the schools received several awards. Recently, a special needs school in Singapore also embraces the VR education technology to assist students in their learning of living and communication skills.