Virtual reality – the promise and the reality

Last month I had the pleasure of attending a workshop held by the LAS (Library Association of Singapore) run by 6 librarians from NTU.  Their enthusiasm was infectious and we were given a great opportunity of experiencing VR (virtual reality) and considering how it could be applied to our educational library contexts.  That prompted me to have a further look into the field.

What is VR? This is a brief background to VR and an introduction of the Oculus Rift hardware which will supposedly be a game changer in VR.

Can VR help us to develop empathy? – here is a video of Barbara Allen using VR to allow the viewer to experience events.

“Working with Stanford’s world-class virtual reality lab, documentary filmmaker Barbara E. Allen developed a prototype that lets users experience the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina from a New Orleans roof top. She gives a sneak peak into the project, which drew on her film making and storytelling skills as well as her love of video-gaming.”

VR in Education

What about the use of VR as a tool to expand exploration and scientific enquiry?  The following video shows some of the possibilities, while this article explores it’s application in training and education. At the moment, attention seems to be focused on higher education and on-the-job training – possibly as a result of the current high price points still involved. The “World of Comeniusis a project in a high school in Czech republic providing a VR biology lesson.

The virtual reality blog provides a comprehensive set of links that are worth exploring further and distinguishes between a immersible “cave” experience as highlighted below and the donning of a headset.

The five ways in which education will be transformed according to a Quora question include: 
  • “magic school bus”
  • Simulators
  • Virtual classroom
  • Virtual self-study
  • Values and socialisation 
Certainly in Singapore with the last month of hazy conditions that put paid to our students’ field trips, VR would be something worth exploring further.  As usual the USA is most developed, with many museums and historical sites providing access to their collections virtually – sometimes in 3D.  
Some advice can be found here:

There is a new experimental branch of google – google expeditions using google cardboard VR headsets. Unfortunately they’re not in Singapore yet – but perhaps if enough schools put in a request they could be swayed?  Anyone out there from Google listening?


And the businesses piling in:

Try for yourself

A first step would be to get hold of the cheap but effective Google cardboard and play around with some of the apps that are available for iOS or Android. 
Next up would be the oculus rift, which should be released in Q1 2016.

What does it mean for librarians?

This is a tricky one. Evidenced by the fact that our presenters from NTU were working with a budget of a mere S$ 2,500 to cover their explorations into the field. What would the role of the librarian be? Curator of content? Finder of resources? Cataloguer of equipment?

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