Prerequisites for Learning in Networked Immersive Virtual Reality
There has been growing interest in using virtual reality (VR) as a solution for many of the challenges facing distance education, such as fostering a sense of connectedness with classmates. However, implementing VR in distance education has its share of challenges, such as hardware accessibility and a scarcity of content which match curricula. In this exploratory, mixed-methods study, we examined 19 students’ use of head-mounted displays to meet with classmates inside social VR. For 4 weeks, students worked together in small groups on various tasks inside a virtual environment. We present quantitative results on attitudes foundational to fostering ideal learning environments. Entitativity (“group-ness”), enjoyment, realism, and presence did not change over time, likely due to a small sample size resulting from technical difficulties in collecting data. We present qualitative observations on instructors’ and students’ experiences across time and with VR use, and how these may inform curricula development. First, it is critical to provide ample training time to allow students to grow accustomed to the medium before investigating how response to VR changes over time. Without learning how to use VR first, students cannot learn inside VR. Second, we discuss task type and content considerations within and outside of VR and provide recommendations on how to reduce cognitive load and encourage social interaction. Third, we address technological and social issues that are likely to arise. Overall, we focus on ways to create a sense of connectedness and reduce psychological distance and challenges that may disrupt meaningful interactions from taking place.