Virtual Reality is making inroads into Canadian classrooms in ways never thought possible

At Hamilton’s McMaster University, Dr. Bruce Wainman has been experimenting with the technology to give his anatomy students another avenue to learn about the human body.

His team has developed programs for multiple platforms, including a full 3D rendering of the body that can be dissected using VR glasses and controllers.

“The idea is that you could have a body that’s extremely real, Wainman says. “Tremendous verisimilitude that you look at and dissect many different ways is promising. It’s like the holy grail that we’re heading towards.”

In recent years, anatomy students have benefited from cadavers that have been fixed in formaldehyde. But students are limited to how much and how long they have access to their subjects.

Virtual Reality allows them the ability to study from anywhere with images that are far superior than traditional pictures in a book.

“Immersion really changes the way people operate and learn,” says Seneca College animation professor Sumit Bhatia.

“When you think about being in an immersive environment, it becomes more contextually real. You can empathize with things at a deeper level. You can relate with experiences differently. It goes beyond the theoretical.”

But despite working with VR for almost a decade, including the more advanced computer VR over the last four years, Wainman isn’t completely convinced they’ve hit the mark.

“That’s the million-dollar question. We’ve shown previously that a quality 3D model is far superior than a 2D picture and sometimes better than some technologies. The question here is, ‘Giving people a beautiful stereoscopic dissection, does that help them as much as we think it will?”

The biggest concern with VR is making sure users have a level of safety and comfort. Bhatia says while we’ve only scratched the surface to the value of virtual teaching, they know some users are fearful of how realistic the virtual world can be.

“I think it’s important to take all of those things into consideration so as we develop a tech, we don’t get carried away with the cool factor because that’s easy to do,” he says.

At George Brown Culinary School, chefs are using mixed-reality glasses to give students a bird’s-eye view of what they’re doing. Traditional teaching methods involve students watching the teacher from afar.

“When I’m standing here, I have a bird’s-eye view, whereas the student is seated and watching from a flatter angle,” says chef Charlton Alvarez. “Looking from top, the way I’m holding the vegetable and the meat, and the knife, and the actual cut is what it’s all about.”

The school has been experimenting with videos for the past four months and will soon make them available for students to watch at home. The videos will show multiple angles of how the chef prepares a meal along with descriptive text. That last part is important because roughly half the students at the college list English as a second language.

“We want to make sure that we implement technology in every part of our teaching and this is really the route to go,” he says. “Mind you, our manuals are up-to-date with pictures and flow charts but if you add the video complement, it just reinforces that skill.”

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