By: Jeongmin Lee
Innovators have gone out of their way to open up a new dimension we all can experience as virtual reality; however, one of the greatest questions regarding this technology can be summed in two words: what now? Virtual reality utilizes computer technology to immerse a user into a simulated world. It takes the user “out of the physical reality to virtually change time, place and (or) the type of interaction” (1). While this may sound like science fiction, virtual reality devices immerse players simply through goggles covering one’s eyes to display the simulated world, and in some models, users have hand-held devices they can use to interact with other objects in that virtual reality. Now that this technology exists, people from multiple fields of expertise are coming together to figure out how virtual reality can be useful.
Simulations and games through virtual reality can serve not only as time-wasting entertainment but also as art, stories, and education. Drawing programs and basic entertainment games have been released with some of the earliest virtual reality headsets. Some entertainment systems try to increase physical activity through a virtual tennis match, while others take advantage of the technology’s ability to immerse the player. With virtual reality, other detailed simulations have been made by HumanSim to train surgeons and dentists on virtual patients (2). Doctors can practice with the virtual world to hone their skills without harming physical patients. In addition to medical education, general education is also looking to bring virtual reality into their classrooms.
Some professors are considering integrating virtual reality into their lectures. As virtual reality is known for its powerful immersion, educators consider this technology an opportunity to better engage students with the course material. The newest technologies have been often used in classrooms, but their usage was not always necessitated (3). For example, once the touch-screen tablet was made, uses of the tablets in class were limited due to the fact that writing down or selecting answers of an activity can be easily done on a regular computer or even pencil and paper. Some classrooms even implemented smart screen white boards, but again, a regular whiteboard could accomplish the same tasks (4). The newer technology did not seem to bring significant benefits compared to past inventions. However, virtual reality may prove to be different.
As virtual reality allows one to generate another world that follows a different set of physical laws, the technology can directly show students what a world with less gravity would look like or help them visualize how large dinosaurs are imagined to be by allowing the users to fly around the model while they are still in their seats. Dr. Der Manuelian, Director of the Harvard Semitic Museum, employs virtual reality to recreate the past of Egyptian pyramids in the classroom (5). Through the immersion, one can experience the different chambers of the pyramids and look around to see not only the color and artifacts that might have existed in that time period but also how large the tombs were and how narrow the hallways leading to the tombs were. This same experience cannot be replicated by a mere video as one must use considerable spatial thinking to imagine the proportions when looking at a stationary screen, but through virtual reality, students can experience what they are learning.
Virtual reality has a lot of potential in its future. Virtual reality can instantly engage players more effectively than many other media by capitalizing on the players’ sight. This immersion, when mastered, can paint experiences and tales more clearly than ever before. Additionally, the technology can have selective use in classrooms where virtual reality labs can be used to aid those who learn best spatially. However, surrounding any user can help them visualize certain scenarios and possibly allow the user to make some theoretical mistakes without harming anyone physically such as surgeons who can practice and make mistakes before operating on a real patient. Virtual reality offers strong involvement of the user into a different world more easily than any other medium has. Through artists, technicians, professors, students, and the general consumer, virtual reality has many uses and can fill many roles in the near future.
Jeongmin Lee ’19 is a sophomore in Lowell House concentrating in Chemistry.
 Fuchs, P., et al. Virtual Reality: Concepts and Technologies; CRC Press: Boca Raton, FL, 2011; pp. 3-7.
 Virtual Reality Society. https://www.vrs.org.uk (accessed Feb. 4, 2017).
 Minshew, L.; Anderson, J. CITE Journal 2015, 15, 334-367.
 Brodkey, J. Larry Cuban on School Reform and Classroom Practice. https://larrycuban.wordpress.com/2010/03/20/wedont-need-smart-boards-we-need-smart-people-jerry-brodkey/ (accessed Mar. 31, 2017).
 Rajan, G. S. Giza 3D: Harvard’s Journey to Ancient Egypt. YouTube [Online], Oct. 2, 2016, http://www.youtube.com/ channel/UCASIa29X_S1YdFyeRHijW1A (accessed Feb. 4, 2017).