College prep students from the Detroit Institute of Technology test-drive a lightweight vehicle they built in a virtual reality game.

Oct 09 2015

Virtual Reality Opens New Pathways for Hands-On Learning

VR is fast becoming a new way to expose students to career possibilities.

The future of hands-on learning could be within the boundless frontier of virtual reality (VR).

Late last month, students from the Detroit Institute of Technology at Cody immersed themselves in a virtual-reality-powered vehicle assembly line. Inside the virtual world, they helped build a lightweight car — and then raced it competitively.

The demonstration was a part of a collaboration between Lightweight Innovations for Tomorrow (LIFT) and Tennessee Tech University (TTU), using Oculus Rift VR headsets and a 3D game built by TTU students.

The nascent technology of VR has been making waves in education. Speaking at ISTE 2015, journalist Soledad O'Brien said VR is a promising opportunity for students because it can expand students' horizons by exposing them to different vocations.

During her keynote, O'Brien brought 10 members of the crowd on stage to try out Google Cardboard, a bare-bones virtual-reality experience that relies on paper-based VR goggles and a smartphone. Using the headsets, O'Brien took the attendees on a virtual test drive of a career in veterinary surgery.

"You could actually let them experience a different career; they could dive right in," O'Brien said.

At the heart of the virtual reality experience is immersion. That's an important factor, said Emily DeRocco, education and workforce director with LIFT, because it leads to engagement.

"We should become far more savvy about presenting young people with the opportunity to learn in their native lands, so to speak. After all, they are digital natives," she said. "To have an expanded learning portfolio that includes cutting-edge technologies is incredibly important.”

Technology opportunities like this will become increasingly important in engaging students in the educational pathways that lead to rewarding, in-demand advanced-manufacturing jobs, she said.

“This tech platform truly is going to change how people and our young generation view advanced manufacturing," said TTU President Phil Oldham.

The VR assembly line demonstration will be distributed to other schools later this year.


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