2.3 Virtual Reality as a learning tool

The use within education of models to substitute for those real physical environments that are too dangerous, difficult or expensive to experience first hand is not new. Throughout human history, people have found increasingly complex ways to capture the essence of an experience and relate this to others. Painting, storytelling, sculpture, theatre, music, books, radio, television and film all serve to stimulate the imagination and give an audience a sense of 'being there'.

In education, this 'cultural - data visualisation' is a recognised means of presenting data for increased comprehension. Text books and audio-visual aids, for example, provide a way of interpreting situations outside our knowledge. Virtual reality is the newest and most powerful medium of visualisation available, and this can be productively incorporated into the learning process (Auld and Pantelidis 1994, 29). Although military, scientific and government computer simulations of reality have been around in some form for decades, this technology is largely unexplored for education in the arts, specifically within archaeology, history and cultural heritage preservation (Sanders 1997).

The use of a virtual environment can offer the user first-hand experience otherwise not available, allow interaction with geographically or temporally remote locations, people and objects, and provide information at levels of detail tailored to individual needs. Subjects such as history, geography, archaeology, and astronomy can be taught using virtual worlds based on real-life situations and settings. Virtual reality, then, can provide the ideal means of presenting information about the structural qualities of a site whilst remaining in a museum setting. However, for educational purposes, the environments should be carefully vetted to ensure historical and archaeological accuracy:

...for virtual reality to have a positive impact on education, the content of virtual worlds should... be based on actualities, like the lifestyle on an ancient Greek farmstead or the religious practices of an Egyptian priest, and not on fantasy and invention. (Sanders 1997)


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Last updated: Mon Nov 29 1999