In October 2014 Villanova opened a large CAVE, with an enclosure 18’x10’x7.5’, with an extendable ceiling screen for use when overhead views are desired. It can accommodate 20 viewers. The lead viewer’s position is tracked, while the other viewers “ride along” with the lead viewer’s movement in the virtual space.

The first two pictures show the Villanova CAVE being used in a materials science course presentation on the structure of silicon crystals:

The third picture shows the CAVE’s ceiling extended, and helps convey an idea of the facility’s size.

The past three years have seen the CAVE used as a classroom for exploring subjects from Biology to Engineering to History. These explorations include taking students into the structure of silicon crystals in electronic circuits, placing students in Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre to better understand the Bard’s plays, and walking students through ancient Jerusalem to appreciate the context of Gospel passages.

Interesting Findings from CAVE

We have found that students appreciated not only the immersive aspect of their experience, but also the group learning dynamics. They can see each other within the virtual world being projected, and they can watch and verbally interact with the lead viewer as that student performs tasks in the virtual world.

The same 3D content that can be viewed in an HMD can also be viewed in a CAVE, and vice versa. But there are differences between these VR technologies. All students cannot wander independently through virtual worlds in a CAVE.  They are tethered to the lead viewer’s position and motion in the virtual world. A set of HMDs and laptops can permit each student in a class to explore the same world independently. On the other hand, students using HMDs cannot see each other or gesture to one another.

Based on my center’s work we have come to see these VR technologies as complementary. Each one offers support for different aspects of the total learning process. CAVEs support collaborative, social aspects of learning, while HMDs support individual, probative aspects of learning.

At Villanova, I encourage instructors to use our CAVE for its collaborative learning strengths but to make the course’s VR material available for students to check out an HMD and use it to study what they saw in the CAVE from a laptop.

I believe that the process of adopting VR as a teaching tool at any school involves decisions about more than just which particular VR technology to use based on cost. It requires planning about how VR will impact an entire class as well as individual learners within it.

When educators choose to adopt VR for courses, they need to be careful not to lose any benefits from collaborative learning strategies they were using in those courses. The process of embedding VR in a course must answer questions not just about what frames of reference we need students to see in a world, but also about what we expect students to reinforce with each other in that world.

When the total learning experience is considered, it will be crucial to bring students along with their classes into the VR era.

About the Author:

Dr. Frank I. Klassner is the director for the Center of Excellence in Enterprise Technology, and a professor in the Department of Computing Sciences, at Villanova University.

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