Getting Started with Virtual Reality

A Google CardboardWe have a weekly meeting in Learning Technology Development where we get together to talk about things that have interested or inspired us. Recently I brought along my Google Cardboard so that the team could try out some Virtual Reality experiences.

There is a lot of interest in Virtual Reality at the moment with Facebook’s acquisition of Oculus VR and the development of a wide range of headsets including those which use your phone as a screen and computer, and those which are standalone devices. Google Cardboard is one of those which holds a compatible phone, and is at the cheaper end of the scale as you can make it yourself, or buy it semi-assembled for less than £20.

My Google Cardboard As you can see I’ve added a velcro strap to make it hands free and Sugru to protect it from skin as it was getting used by a lot of people. A Bluetooth controller is also needed to use some Virtual Reality apps, but not all.

There is a dedicated Cardboard app for Android devices which demonstrates potential uses; I’ve looked at this in detail in another blog post. There is also a web page that you can visit to experience more experiments. The easiest way to create basic content yourself is by making Photo Spheres which newer (4.2+) Android devices can create using the default camera app. Another really good Android app to get you started is Tuscany Dive which displays a 3D environment that you can explore, and doesn’t require a controller.

As for possible uses in education we talked about ideas such as allowing new or potential students to view their rooms, or areas of campus, if they cannot access them for whatever reason. We wondered about using the headsets for Augmented Reality; the only AR example I’ve seen is the demo for a Role Playing Game. In the long term we could perhaps do some of the things that we’ve used 3D Virtual Worlds like Second Life for, such as running virtual risk assessments and role plays. Merchant et al (2014) undertook a meta-analysis of research into use of this ‘desktop-based virtual reality’ in education, which might be a good starting point to explore what has already been learned in this area.

We’re still quite a way from these technologies being ready for mainstream use; Gartner’s 2014 Hype Cycle for Emerging Technologies estimates that it will be 5-10 years before Virtual Reality reaches the Plateau of Productivity. There are also many issues to overcome such as motion sickness. However affordable headsets that use devices that many of us already own, can help us develop a better understanding of what we could use these technologies for in education.


Peter Beaumont
Learning Technology Development Officer