The Benefits of Incorporating VR into Academic Libraries

VR/AR isn't a gimmick—it's a tool.

Augmented (AR) and Virtual Reality (VR) are bringing new, innovative objectives into education. Our library was interested in what different headsets were capable of and how our communities could use them. We have a few different VR headsets for student checkout: the Oculus Rift, Oculus Gear, and the newest model, Oculus Quest 2. The students are able to check out the headsets for a period of three hours at a time. They must stay in the library, but are able to use study rooms or open areas next to the Makerspace. Besides the different games and adventure apps on the headsets, we also have multiple platforms that students can use for educational purposes, making these headsets useful tools for their time at college.

Helpful educational apps

We researched different applications for education and reached out to faculty based on which topics we found to be of great interest. Some of our favorite VR/AR apps include:

  • 4D Anatomy allows students to examine the human body. There are over 2,000 anatomical structures to examine. Students are able to navigate through the body, peel away layers, and take quizzes.

  • Google Expeditions takes users on a journey through different collections of 360-degree objects and scenes, identifying interesting sites and artifacts along the way. Users can explore history, architecture, and the natural world.

  • Vermillion and Tilt Brush are apps that allow art students to simulate and bring their paintings to life. They allow users to customize canvases, use different brushes, and add layers, and also provide accurate blending and mixing.

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Faculty and staff collaboration for student success

We participated in a faculty learning committee dedicated to exploring the innovations of AR/VR technologies and how to bring them into the classroom. One of the professors wanted to conduct an experiment on the power of empathy through VR. He wanted to see if empathy could be heightened in a virtual environment, more so than in two dimensions or on paper.

For this experiment, we located different experiences in a 360-degree situation. One video was from the perspective of a child with autism who is visiting the mall with their mother. The video takes users through what the child sees and hears around them. Another video was a woman with dementia who gets turned around and confused while walking home. The students who took part in the experiment provided incredible feedback on how the videos made them feel and how being immersed in a different world really accentuated the situation.

That experiment led to another study dealing with empathy, this time geared toward thoughts on the homeless population. We gave the students a survey to fill out before watching a video, and then another survey afterward. The video is of a woman who is living on the streets and what her day-to-day life is like. The students watched the video in VR and were able to experience things from the woman’s eyes while she narrated her daily routine. The survey that researchers gave students after the experience proved that the VR experience heightened their emotions and they gained a new perspective. This experiment turned into a research paper published in Social Marketing Quarterly.

Across campus collaboration

Collaborating with groups throughout campus is a great way to market the benefits of the equipment the Makerspace offers. Our campus launched a UMatter program funded for students with unique abilities. With support from UMatter professional staff and mentors, students in the program navigate the transition from high school to college, acquire skills in socialization and independent living, and experience professional training through internships. The UMatter staff partnered with us to research Virtual 360 applications that would help the students gain insight and to help them develop job interviewing skills. We found a few great applications for the Oculus Quest that were job interview simulators, allowing the students to practice and improve their interviewing skills by creating the experience of an interview in virtual reality. The application contains a 200-question bank that provides a broad range of topics. After their practice interviews, the students receive AI-powered feedback.

Uploading content

Students are also able to create their own photo and video content and upload it into the VR headsets. The Oculus Quest headset can connect directly to a PC. On the PC, users can drag and drop content over, and then it becomes accessible in VR. They can also share these links with others, so anyone who has an Oculus Quest can access the same content. For example, a student can take a 360-degree video of the campus and upload it from their phone wirelessly through an app called X-plore. Then, they can share the video with someone in a completely different location to show them what the campus is like.

Apps for recreation alone or in a group

The library is a great location for studying, whether it is solo silent study or group study. But, it is also a great place to just relax and take a moment away. There are many fun games inside VR, and the students love taking a break from studying to get immersed in the virtual world. We are able to connect the headsets so that we can cast what the student is seeing within the headsets onto a giant screen, allowing other students to watch along and enjoy the game as a group activity.

There are many different ways to bring Augmented and Virtual Reality into a college experience that is educational, explorative, creative, and genuinely fun. Our students love checking out the headsets in groups and watching everyone’s reactions to what they are viewing inside, taking turns, and experiencing all the different places VR can take them.

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