Flooding young minds through digital immersion

September 10, 2015 // By Julien Happich
Flooding young minds through digital immersion
In his introduction keynote of the IMMERSION 2015 event taking place at the Sorbonne University in Paris, Immersive Education Initiative Director Aaron E. Walsh gave attendees an overview of existing virtual and augmented reality technologies as they are used today.

Whether it be for untertainment (mostly gaming and advertising), training and education or to explore yet to be built computer-generated machineries and architectural spaces, the solutions range from the full digital confinement offered by Oculus-type devices or 3D digital domes that englobe users within virtual reality streams, to more open augmented reality implemented as clever graphics superimpositions on mobile devices screens (including smart glasses).

Although virtual reality is not new, the acquisition of Oculus by Facebook last year gave a strong signal to content providers and game designers, as a technology due to take center stage in social networking, enabling virtual avatars to connect within digital wonderlands. Software industry heavyweights Microsoft and Google are into the game too, backing up fancy augmented reality projects such as Hololens or Magic Leap with the promise to have our lives digitally enhanced wherever we look.

Of course, the 5th European Immersive Education Summit (EiED 2015) had its focus on using AR and VR for better or augmented education, that is, offering pupils and students a richer education environment for a meaningful learning experience. Something that engages them more and that leaves a lasting impression for a better assimilation of the topics being taught.

"Learning is enhanced when intangible concepts are reinforced by tangible objects" said Walsh, taking as an example a Physics lesson where pupils could manipulate volumes and view complex shapes from within. "Virtual reality and augmented reality engage students at a deeper level than lecturing them on a blackboard, it grabs and keeps their attention like the best video games" he highlighted, "It gives learners a sense of presence, of being there".

Other keynote speakers such as Melissa A. Carrillo, Director of New Media and Technology at the Smithsonian Latino Center, or Dr. Bryan Carter, Assistant Professor of Africana Studies at the University of Arizona, shared their experience using virtual reality sets to convey cultural heritage, helping their pupils recreate cultural events or immerse themselves into past sceneries of historical significance. Carrillo presented excerpts of her work on the "Día de los Muertos" while Carter gave us an overview of the "Virtual Harlem" project.

Both emphasized that pupils who had opted for the immersive teaching environment had retained more about the lessons, gaining a fuller view of the topic. Maybe because they had been more proactive, wandering around the virtual spaces set up for them, looking for information and working collectively with other avatars.

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