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 (39)
  • jackiek-orv
    3/06/2018 - 02:41 p.m.

    I remember doing something like that it was really fun, but it made me dizzy.

  • samihf-
    3/07/2018 - 09:03 a.m.

    This was a very cool thing. I hope I could do this at my school one day, or at another school.

  • calliy-orv
    3/07/2018 - 02:16 p.m.

    I think that the three advantages are that kids can discover new things and they can be better at the things that they learn they can kind of see and tell a little of things about what they see and how they see it and how other people can see it

  • jeremyj-orv
    3/07/2018 - 07:28 p.m.

    When I was in sixth grade We did a field trip like the one explained in the caption above, its a really enjoyable experience.... I would love to do one about the Holocaust, wouldn't that be cool...

  • calebr-orv
    3/12/2018 - 11:37 a.m.

    I'm amazed that the use this new technology for schooling, super cool!

  • Sabina-E2
    3/13/2018 - 01:18 p.m.

    I think there are lots of advantages with virtual reality field trips but I will only name three of those advantages like the article tells me to, and those advantages are:
    1. Not having to drive (and saving money on gas.)

    2. It is advanced technology and I think that children should learn about technology.

    3. Trying something new.

  • jordanw-orv
    3/13/2018 - 02:50 p.m.

    I think that instead of using money and making these goggles we could be helping homeless people or people with no job or money. Also think about it for a minute, if we are rich enough to make these goggles then why aren't we rich enough to find cures for diseases?

  • AsadA
    3/14/2018 - 05:15 p.m.

    The 3 pros of VR field trips are: 1. perhaps there is only 5 teachers instead of 10 that day,but you are going on a field trip.Well put on your VR goggles and you're ready to go! 2. It simulates real-world experiences without leaving the building. Say a student can't go on the trip, well he still can. 3. It's more modern and adept to teens these days.

  • TimT-dec
    3/15/2018 - 01:45 p.m.

    One afentage is in the long run it is cheaper. Another is it is still like you are there but really are not. A third is you are not limited by a bus ride to how far you can go.

  • LizziM-dec
    3/16/2018 - 08:11 a.m.

    I think this is really cool and I would probably try this if I had a chance.

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