Welcome to Axon Park’s definitive guide to Metaverse Education. This article will be updated frequently to add new sections and refine old sections.

Chapter 1: Introduction to Metaverse Education

What are the Origins of VR?

In 1955, a Hollywood filmmaker named Morton Heilig published an essay on his ambitious vision to evolve cinema: “The cinema of the future will no longer be a visual art, but an art of consciousness.”

Human consciousness, Morton believes, is simply the composite of all the senses experienced through the eyes, ears, nose, mouth, and skin. He worked relentlessly to realize his dream of creating what he called a “reality machine” which could engage all of a moviegoer’s senses to make them feel like they are actually in the movie’s world: “Open your eyes, listen, smell, and feel—sense the world in all its magnificent colors, depth, sounds, odors, and textures—this is the cinema of the future!”

In 1962, he introduced to the world the Sensorama, a colorful, one-of-a-kind booth that looks like it came from a Nickelodeon themed arcade. If you got your hands on one of these machines today and watched a movie with a motorcycle scene, then you’d feel the wind in your hair, smell the exhaust fumes of the passing bus, feel the bumps on the road, hear the engine, and see the bustling city around you.

Image source – The official sensorama patent (on the left) and an advertisement for it (on the right).

The Sensorama is considered to be one of the earliest proto-VR devices. Although the Sensorama failed to gain popularity because of how expensive it was to mass produce, 59 years later we’re very close to achieving Morton’s dream with VR tech. Morton passed away in 1997, but if he miraculously came back to life and experienced a modern day VR headset, he’d likely laugh and cry with glee and continue innovating in VR!

Unlike today’s portable VR headsets with consumer-friendly designs, one of its ancestors looked more intimidating. In 1968, computer scientist Ivan Sutherland and his colleagues created a mechanical tracking system (MTS) called “The Sword of Damocles.” The name was inspired by the Greek parable — like the sword hanging by a thread above Damocles, the MTS hangs from the ceiling above a user strapped into the head mounted display (HMD). The user would be able to move around and see wireframe graphics projected into the real world. Today, it’s more accurate to call the device shown below augmented reality or mixed reality.

Image source – The Sword of Damocles, a VR Head Mounted Display

While Ivan was building the Sword of Damocles, Tom Furness was building a helmet mounted display to train fighter pilots. The helmet immersed pilots in a virtual environment to safely practice flying aircrafts with seemingly endless buttons, gauges, switches, and dials; the helmet would streamline information to make navigation more manageable.

Image source – The evolution of Tom Furness’s Helmet-Mounted Display

What is VR?

Consider the following thought experiment: if you went back in time 200,000 years and gave our ancestors VR headsets and gloves, would they have ever developed language?

Jaron Lanier, a renaissance man who is considered one of the founding fathers of VR, suspects not. “As soon as you can change the world in any way, that is a mode of expression of utter power and eloquence; it makes description seem a little limited.”

But what exactly is virtual reality? Taking a further step back, what is reality?

Jaron believes, like Morton, that both reality and virtual reality “doesn’t have anything directly to do with what’s going on inside the brain. It only has to do with what your sense organs perceive.”

Jaron has over 52 definitions of virtual reality, such as VR is “an ever growing set of gadgets that work together and match up with human sensory or motor organs. Goggles, gloves, floors that scroll, so you can feel like you’re walking far in the virtual world even though you remain in the same physical spot; the list will never end.”

Reality is simply what we sense in the physical world, and virtual reality is what we sense in digital worlds via technological gadgets.

In our physical reality, we move through the world with our physical bodies and change the world with limited tools; at night it’s dark and difficult to see, so we invented filaments and light switches. But “you can’t have a light switch that turns day to night or a knob that makes the room suddenly grow or shrink in size,” Jaron says.

In virtual reality, we move, teleport, fly through the world with virtual bodies (you can be a cat or gorilla, a piano or violin, a rock or The Rock) and can change the world in unlimited ways with unlimited tools.

The term virtual reality was popularized by Jaron in the 1980s while he was building VPL Research, one of the first companies that created VR products. These products include The EyePhone, The DataSuit, and The DataGlove. NASA used The DataGlove, invented by Tom Zimmerman from VPL Research, to train astronauts.

Jaron predicted back in 1989 that in the future, VR would have a wide variety of practical uses, such as “surgery simulators so surgeons can enjoy the same benefits that pilots do and learn without putting lives at risk.” In later sections we’ll explore the most common fields using VR education today. For now, let’s dive deeper into the early history of XR’s use in education and learning.

What is the early history of VR for education and learning?

In the 1990s, the press and the public were debating how to reform education to improve student outcomes. Tech savvy educators at the time were arguing that VR would be the future of education, but they had differing definitions of VR; some believed VR is simply learning from computers, while others believed VR is wearing headsets that simulate interactive learning environments. This section explores three early VR education studies that used VR headsets and immersive, interactive environments.

In 1993, professor John Brelsford from Rice University proved that physics students learning in VR retained physics concepts better than students learning in a lecture.

The experiment group, consisting of junior high and college physics students, used VR systems that simulated swinging pendulums with balls of varying weights attached; the students were able to change the length of the pendulum, the force of gravity, and the amount of air drag and friction. They performed various experiments in the interactive VR environment for 60 minutes.

The control group students sat in an hour-long lecture about the same pendulum concepts. After four weeks, both groups of students took surprise multiple choice exams on the physics concepts they learned in the lecture or the virtual environment.

“As a training method, virtual reality was superior to the control condition at the four-week retention period,” Brelsford said. “Such a finding supports cognitive theorists who argue that the lack of opportunities for hands-on, manipulation of objects in the physical world is one of the reasons children are often poor at intuitive physics. Virtual reality provides them the opportunity to develop manipulational skills they did not previously possess.”

In 1995, the University of Washington created the Virtual Reality Rover Vehicle Program (VRRV, pronounced as verve); vans filled with state-of-the-art VR equipment (HMDs, gloves, wands) would travel around schools in Washington State so students could learn about VR and build their own virtual worlds.

For example, 127 seventh graders, who were learning about wetlands ecology at the time, built four worlds that modeled the processes of the water, energy, nitrogen, and carbon dioxide cycles. “The students’ task was to demonstrate the processes operating in each cycle by manipulating the objects they had built and accounting for the results,” VRRV’s website states. “For example, a student would ‘grab’ some energy from the sun, use it to evaporate water in a pond, pick up the water vapor and lift it into the sky to form clouds and make it rain. Or a student could ‘feed’ plants to herbivores, herbivores to carnivores and observe animal and vegetable material decaying to return nutrients to the soil.”

In 1997, Zoo Atlanta and researchers launched the Virtual Reality Gorilla Exhibit. In addition to observing gorillas from afar, students could don VR headsets to become the gorillas and learn how gorillas interact with each other.

“The exhibit combines a model of Zoo Atlanta’s Gorilla Habitat with computer-generated gorillas whose movements and interactions are modeled as accurate representations of gorilla behaviors,” the researchers said. The researchers noted that the students could barely contain their excitement for trying the headset, and their motivations stayed high even during the more boring portions of the curriculum: “this augers well for using VR as an educational tool, since you have to get a student’s attention and get them excited before you can teach them anything.”

Image source

Overall, early studies found virtual reality could boost retention, improve understanding of complex phenomena, and increase motivation. The next sections (coming soon) will cover the most common fields using VR Education, the common types of VR content, when it makes sense to use VR for learning, how VR enhances pedagogical models, and how VR improves learning overall.