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Can a virtual reality environment work in the classroom?

Paul Dredge, EasiPC & Microsoft Innovative Education Expert, reveals the magic of Microsoft's HoloLens

Posted by Alice Savage | May 14, 2017 | Teaching

Virtual reality has developed excessively since I was a child at school. I remember when I was eight years old, there was a television programme presented by Craig Charles called Cyber Zone. At the time, this seemed like the next generation when it came to technology as it put the contestants into a virtual reality game show. Back then, being able to use virtual reality seemed like a distant dream. Within the past couple of years that futuristic dream has developed into a reality with the recent release of virtual reality headsets. Sega and Nintendo were two of the first companies to make 

VR headsets but these never made a big impact; the Sega one never made it past the prototype and the Nintendo Virtual Boy never lived up to its expectations. As technology has developed so has virtual reality. Now you can buy several headsets; the Oculus Rift, Sony PlayStation VR and the Microsoft HoloLens.

A few months ago I went down to Microsoft headquarters in Reading and whilst there I was given the opportunity to try out the new Microsoft HoloLens. Prior to going, I had carried out extensive reading about the HoloLens and, from what I had read, this VR headset sounded amazing. I had used a couple of VR headsets before with a phone but had never felt that full virtual reality experience. The HoloLens uses a mixed reality view, so instead of being in a virtual reality environment it puts a holographic overlay on the real world. This takes away that problem of feeling dizzy and disorientated as you can still see the real world and move around freely. It’s also the first wireless self-contained holographic computer, so you don’t need to plug it into another device as it runs fully as a standalone unit. 

So, what can the HoloLens do and why would you use it in the classroom? One of the first things I wanted to experience with the HoloLens was to go on a virtual tour; using the HoloLens you can pick a city from across the world and go on a guided tour of that city. I chose Rome as I have been there before and I wanted to see how life-like it was. The tour guide started talking and the noise of the busy streets played into my ears. I was able to walk around the room I was in and within the virtual reality world I was walking around the streets of Rome. The tour guide would tell me about where I was and if I moved my head around I could see more; it was as if I was there. This was highly impressive and straight away I could see it being used in the classroom. It would enable pupils to see a city they are currently studying, in a life-like form, without stepping outside the classroom. 

The second thing I really wanted to see was how you could drill down into an object and interact with it. I was exploring a fully working 3D body and was able to navigate around and interact with it. The HoloLens gives you the ability to explore the human body and see parts of the body working. I was able to view a hologram of a human body in front of me and interact with it, choosing what I wanted to see. I focused on the cardiovascular system and was able to see the heart pumping blood around the body. To add to that, I could then zoom in on the heart and see it in greater detail. 

Again, straight away, I was imagining the joy of science lessons where the pupils would be able to explore things that they wouldn’t be able to in a normal classroom. The HoloLens also allows 3D design and gives students the ability to construct scale models, or create a full-sized model which then provides them with the opportunity to walk around it.

I had only touched on the capabilities of what a HoloLens can do and I was highly impressed. I can see so many uses for it in the classroom ranging from subjects like ICT to geography, design, science and art. 

W: microsoft.com

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