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Bridging the Rift Between Classroom and Online Learning


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An engineering student explores a virtual scene with the aid of a headset and a haptic glove he and other undergraduates helped design.

Researchers at Pennsylvania State University are experimenting with immersive virtual reality to determine whether it could enhance student learning.

Credit: Tom Flach

Pennsylvania State University (PSU) researchers are experimenting with Oculus Rift, an immersive virtual reality (IVR) system, to determine how it could enhance student learning. The researchers say IVR technology eventually could give students taking online courses a way to become more engaged in their coursework.

PSU professor Conrad Tucker says although online courses provide important opportunities in higher education, they also are limiting because there is little immersive or tactile interaction, which makes it hard for students to engage with the material; he believes IVR systems could be a solution to that problem.

The PSU researchers, working with the Oculus Rift IVR headset, designed simulations using the Unity3D program, as well as a haptic glove associated with the IVR system. The study found the PSU system significantly improves a student's performance in completing a task when compared to doing the same activity in a non-immersive computer program.

Although this type of system has many benefits, "one of the major ones is that when compared to the non-immersive system, IVR systems give you a much more natural experience," Tucker says.

From Penn State News
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