Virtual reality field trips give students advanced adventure In this Feb. 7, 2018 photo, Lily Adler, left, advisor and teacher at the Berkeley Carroll School in the Brooklyn borough of New York, adjusts her virtuality reality headset. From center left are students, Daniel Cornicello, 17, Charlie Hertz, 17, and Taylor Engler, 16. (AP Photo/Deepti Hajela)
Virtual reality field trips give students advanced adventure
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It’s a February afternoon in a Brooklyn classroom. Sixteen-year-old Taylor Engler comes face to face with a cow. But it was all in her head.

She was transported by a virtual reality headset. It took the Berkeley Carroll School junior and eight classmates to an upstate New York farm. The farm was 250 miles away. For students, the technology means field trips are no longer limited by the length of a bus ride.

"I was not expecting it to be right in my face!" That's what Taylor said after peeling off the purple headset and finding herself back in the confines of her city classroom.

On any given day, students nationwide are taking virtual reality "trips." They are deep-sea diving and observing medical operations. They are even swimming through the human circulatory system. They are using gadgets that are becoming more accessible in both cost and content.

At the least, teachers say, it's another way to engage the iPhone generation of students. At best, it can enhance their understanding and improve their grades.

"It instantly grabs the students." That's according to Colin Jones. He teaches science in the Plainview-Old Bethpage Central School District. He has used a system called zSpace to dissect cells. And he has walked goggled students through the boreal forest with a Google app called Expeditions.

"It's something that can be done in a period or two," he said. "But it could take even a week sometimes when you're doing a lab."

In Brooklyn, Engler and classmates virtually walked through barns and fields in Watkins Glen. They stretched their arms toward videotaped pigs and cows only they saw. It was an "outing" that otherwise would not have happened, given the limits of time and staffing. That's according to adviser Lily Adler.

"It's different than watching video because you can have more than one perspective. You can actually move," Taylor said during the lesson by animal rights group Farm Sanctuary.

Not only move, but also feel, said Richard Lamb. He studies how the brain processes information at the University at Buffalo Neurocognition Science Lab. The physical effects of virtual reality become clear in the lab. Subjects standing on solid ground teeter on stories-high virtual scaffolding or experience motion sickness without moving.

"Some of the research we're doing has actually shown that what you experience in virtual reality has very similar, if not the same, physiological responses that you would get if you were doing the actual activity," Lamb said. "Heart rate, cognition, breathing, everything."

What effect does it have on learning? He said it improves interest, understanding and recall.

It's unknown how many classrooms have or will adopt the technology. But experts say it's still relatively rare. Individual headsets that require a user's phone can cost as little as $20 or $30, but systems and software for classes run into the thousands of dollars. Early complaints about a lack of good software are fading as more companies enter the market. But the rules for use haven't necessarily caught up to the technology.

In New York, for example, simulated lab experiments don't count toward the state's hands-on lab time requirements.

Experts say the sciences are an area where virtual reality, especially enhanced to let users manipulate their surroundings, holds particular promise for classrooms.

"The biggest hindrance, I think, is going to be the quality of that experience, how closely it mimics the physical world." That's according to David Evans. He is executive director of the National Science Teachers Association.

But, he said, "the ability to do dangerous things, the ability to run many, many more cases in a simulation space as opposed to the real physical space represents a huge learning opportunity."

Lamb taught chemistry and he agreed.

"Too often in schools, when we do things with laboratories, it’s…you mix this together, you mix that together and you get this outcome. And if you don't get that outcome, you did something wrong. But we don't have enough resources for you to redo it," he said. In virtual reality, "all I do is hit reset on the computer. I don't have to actually use chemicals."

Both Lamb and Evans stressed using the technology to enrich — not replace — real-world experiences. In the real world, any number of subtle factors can affect an outcome.

"We have to remain anchored in the actual world," Evans cautioned, "because that's the one that we really need to explain."

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CRITICAL THINKING QUESTION
What are three advantages of virtual-reality field trips?
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COMMENTS (37)
  • calliy-orv
    2/28/2018 - 11:34 a.m.

    i think we should be able to do a virtual-reality field trip. i have played a game of virtual-reality on my phone, and at my brothers house.

  • joeyw-orv
    2/28/2018 - 11:48 a.m.

    We did something sort of like this before. In either fourth or fifth grade, we had the cardboard google virtual reality headset. It doesn't seem as cool as this would be, but it was still cool.

  • ellyb-orv
    2/28/2018 - 02:29 p.m.

    When I was in 5th or 6th grade we did the Google virtual reality headset. It was really cool at the time, but I don't think it would be that cool anymore though.

  • jamariw-orv
    2/28/2018 - 02:56 p.m.

    virtual reality is very fun we had people come to our school a few years back when they first released the glasses

  • calebr-orv
    2/28/2018 - 02:57 p.m.

    3 virtual adventures could be to the tajmahal or to the white house or somthing.

  • SpencerB-buh
    3/01/2018 - 10:58 a.m.

    I think it is awesome that they have virtual-reality field trips.It would cost a lot but it would be worth it.I like this topic cause think of the places of the could go.And you could go face to face animals like a bull and not get hurt

  • TristanL-dec
    3/05/2018 - 12:29 p.m.

    You can stay in the classroom.Don't have to travel.thye can feel the cows or anything

  • holdenj-orv
    3/06/2018 - 11:14 a.m.

    I don't know why you need Virtual Reality to see a Caw at a Farm. You could just get on a bus and drive out of the city to the nearest farm. You Could however use VR to take a "Field Trip" to somewhere like New York or even Paris.

  • kinniel-orv
    3/06/2018 - 01:53 p.m.

    I like that. We did that back in the day, but they were way different virtual-reality glasses.

  • cheyl-orv
    3/06/2018 - 01:59 p.m.

    I think it is cool that they have virtual-reality field trips but I would rather go to the place.

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