Many universities have a virtual reality lab, department or research group. These take the form of semi-immersive or even a CAVE fully immersive virtual reality and perform a variety of functions which includes teaching, learning and research.
Virtual reality is used as a tool to explore a particular subject, e.g. architecture, biology, medicine etc or as a subject in itself.
An example where virtual reality is the subject is the Virtual Human Interaction Lab at Stanford University. Here they explore different aspects of virtual reality as a means of communication. They are focused upon the outcome of this virtual communication in a range of settings, for example, games, the media, the workplace etc.
Virtual reality in medical schools
If we return to where virtual reality is used as a teaching method then there are numerous examples of this. Medicine is an obvious example in which medical students are taught anatomy and physiology using this technology. They use virtual reality as a diagnostic tool, examining a virtual patient to find out the cause of their medical problem. This visualisation allows students to explore the human body and learn more about how it works – and what can go wrong.
Virtual reality in engineering
It is also used for prototyping purposes, for example engineering, where students use this to build models that aid with knowledge and understanding. They learn about the importance of prototyping and iteration in which an object is designed, tested and altered in line with user feedback.
Another form of use is virtual worlds such as Second Life which have been utilised by universities for research purposes. There are universities who have virtual campuses within this environment, for example Coventry University Island which runs courses, holds lectures and sells various products.
This is viewed as 21st century learning but does not mean an abandonment of traditional teaching methods. Universities have combined both of these in order to provide the fullest experience for their students.