Vir­tual-re­al­ity field trips give stu­dents ad­vanced ad­ven­ture

Sun.Star Cebu - - LIVE! - / AP

In a Brook­lyn class­room, 16-year-old Tay­lor En­gler came face to face with a cow. But it was all in her head. A vir­tual re­al­ity head­set had trans­ported the Berkeley Car­roll School ju­nior and eight class­mates to an up­state New York farm 250 miles (402 kilo­me­ters) 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!” 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 deep-sea div­ing, ob­serv­ing med­i­cal op­er­a­tions, even swim­ming through the hu­man cir­cu­la­tory sys­tem us­ing gad­gets that are be­com­ing in­creas­ingly 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,” said Colin Jones, who teaches sci­ence in the Plain­view-Old Beth­page Cen­tral School Dis­trict. He has used a sys­tem called zS­pace to dis­sect cells and 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, “when 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, stretch­ing arms to­ward video­taped pigs and cows only they saw. It was an “out­ing” that oth­er­wise would not have hap­pened, ad­viser Lily Adler said, given the con­straints of time and staffing.

“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.

“The big­gest hin­drance, I think, is go­ing to be the qual­ity of that ex­pe­ri­ence, how closely it mim­ics the phys­i­cal world,” said David Evans, 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.”

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