Virtual Reality (VR) technology is becoming more prevalent, both recreationally and educationally, and the push to include VR elements in academic settings has gained substantial traction. In an effort to keep up with this trend, the Instructional Design (ID) Team spent the last academic year completing a pilot project that brought a set of 10 standalone Lenovo VR headsets into the classrooms of several different programs around La Salle.

students using VR
Students exploring architectural sites in an Art History course.

The ID Team collaborated with innovative faculty from Art History, Biology, Foreign Languages and Literatures, Public Health, Nutrition, and the Students for Environmental Action Club to implement VR technology in new and interesting ways. Students participating in VR learning experiences are calling the technology cool, engaging, and helpful. Faculty are also extolling the ways that VR content can boost engagement, unlike a traditional PowerPoint or images in a textbook.

Here are a few learning experiences that used this technology to enrich and educate students.

Virtual Field Trips

In Professor Siobhan Conaty’s Art History classes, students used the Google Expeditions app to visit ancient historical sites like the Great Pyramid of Giza and Stonehenge as well as modern landmarks like the Burj Khalifa, all in the comfort of Olney Hall. Each scene fully immerses students in an entirely 360-degree environment, allowing them to see proportions, surroundings, and details that can’t be obtained in a two-dimensional image. So far, students have been very receptive to the virtual field trips with one student remarking “It was my first time using the device and my excitement took over in a flash.” See an example of an Expedition below and the lesson plan here: VirtualRealityArtHistorySp19.

As an introduction to a wayfinding assignment, Professor Vince Kling showed his French students two distinct perspectives on the grandeur of Paris. One Expedition showed a bird’s eye view of the massive city through 360-degree aerial photographs of the city’s most famous monuments including the Champs-Élysées and the Arc de Triomphe. Students experienced another trip from the sightseer’s perspective and visited major attractions like the Palace of Versailles and the Eiffel Tower. In a sad turn of events, students saw Notre-Dame de Paris in VR as it will never look again in reality, just a few days before news broke that the cathedral was seriously damaged in a fire.

students and professor using VR
Prof. Kling guides his students on a virtual tour of Paris.

Environmental Tourism with VR

The Students for Environmental Action (SEA) Club piloted the VR Headsets to get up-close views of the inner workings of a recycling plant and the impacts of deforestation on the rainforests of Central America. SEA Club members enjoyed learning more about environmental causes through VR and commented on the potential it has for their organization’s goals:

“One way to build empathy and awareness of environmental issues would be to show students the impacts of our lifestyle on the environment through VR.”

In another virtual expedition to Brazil, students in Professor Katie Bendin’s Public Health Leadership class traveled to the epicenter of the Zika Virus outbreak. The VR lesson complemented their earlier coursework about responding to public health crises by giving them a virtual experience of the panic in Brazil, the alarming effects of microcephaly on babies of infected mothers, and the world’s response to Zika. Professor Bendin called VR…

“a great learning tool to engage some of my students who tend to be quieter.”


Uncovering the Human Anatomy in VR

Students in Dr. Rhonda Hazell’s Biology Labs explored the skeletal system by donning the VR headsets in collaboration with their investigation of individual bone structures. In an app called Human Anatomy VR, students worked together to identify bones within their accurate anatomical location on a three-dimensional human skeleton. Students moved and sliced the parts of the skeleton and viewed them from different angles and distances. The VR anatomy app allows learners to rotate specific bones and see how they connect to other muscles and bone structures, adding a more realistic experience of the human body.

Students using VR
Students explore the human skeletal system in VR.

Dr. Liz Emery’s Nutrition students used the Human Anatomy VR app in the context of a nutrition-focused physical exam. Working in pairs, students identified muscles commonly used in malnutrition assessment. By isolating a particular muscle, the student on the VR headset described muscle features like location, shape, and size to their partner. After each taking a turn on the headset, students practiced with their partner to perform visual and physical assessments of the muscles they just explored in VR. See the Lesson Plan here: Virtual Reality Exploration of the Anatomical Basis for Physical Assessment of Muscle Wasting 190430

Looking Beyond: More Applications For VR

The VR initiative presents a myriad of new possibilities for instructors and students alike. In addition to the potential learning applications, the ID Team is excited about the positive impacts VR is having on student engagement and the technological transformation it can bring to La Salle University. If you are interested in using this technology in your work at La Salle, please contact us at IDTeam@lasalle.edu.