Learning and Assessing in a Virtual Reality

The annual Electronic Entertainment Expo, billed as E3, is abuzz in the technology and entertainment news at the moment. One of the more prominent themes this year? Virtual Reality. With that in mind, it feels pertinent to visit VR’s crossovers with the field of education, particularly with increasing interest around the idea of “gamification” as a means of instruction and assessment. After All, there are endless possibilities when it comes to a Virtual Reality – so much so the University of Southern California has a whole team dedicated to studying it.


VR can support training in many classic ways like driver’s education, and some not so traditional ways. “At Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico — home of the first American atomic bomb — scientists are using video-game technology to enhance training for the inspectors who monitor civilian nuclear activities around the world.” NPR reports.

Virtual Reality excels in training applications where the high stakes environments needed cannot be reproduced safely or in a cost-effective manner. In this particular case, it allows the trainees to have a better understanding of the systems they will be working with by exploring aspects of the systems that they would physically be unable to. Los Alamos uses the technology to allow the learners to observe cutaway models in 3D space and having the ability to view and interact with otherwise invisible deadly radiation.

Individuals who are learning need to have the freedom to fail in order to have the opportunity to gain feedback, reassess their knowledge, and grow. In high risk and high stakes environments this is no different and virtual reality provides the freedom to fail in an authentic assessment so that when and if the learner needs to truly be tested to say, perform brain surgery – they will be much more likely to execute the appropriate actions when they’re carrying out their risky procedure, or controlling a robot in space.

Field Trips and Exploration

the future. This not only opens up a wealth of opportunities, it completely flips the idea of field trips on its head! Among many other applications, students learning about volcanoes can travel across the globe to see historical ruins. Virtual Reality brings students closer to the subject they’re learning about, even across time and space, and for those reasons, can be very helpful in developing empathy and understanding for otherwise distant and alien cultures.

Self Learning, Mental Health Assessment

There’s a lot to be said for learning about yourself and growing from that. Proponents of immersion or exposure therapy, a technique used to assess and treat a variety of psychological conditions such as phobias and post-traumatic stress disorders – have found an ally in virtual reality. Bravemind VR is a project from the University of Southern California’s Institute of Creative Technologies.

They explain, “Exposure therapy, in which a patient – guided by a trained therapist – confronts their trauma memories through a retelling of the experience, is now endorsed as an “evidence-based” treatment for PTS… The current applications consist of a series of virtual scenarios specifically designed to represent relevant contexts for VR exposure therapy, including Middle-Eastern themed city and desert road environments. In addition to the visual stimuli presented in the VR head mounted display, directional 3D audio, vibrations and smells can be delivered into the simulation. Now rather than relying exclusively on imagining a particular scenario, a patient can experience it again in a virtual world under very safe and controlled conditions. Young military personnel, having grown up with digital gaming technology, may actually be more attracted to and comfortable with a VR treatment approach as an alternative to traditional “talk therapy”.

Bravemind is just one of the VR applications in the field of assessing and treating mental disorders.


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