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Virtual reality offers a captivating way to learn—in the classroom and beyond

April 16, 2017
Picture of Jeremy Bailenson in the Virtual Human Interaction Lab
Jeremy Bailenson (left), director of the Virtual Human Interaction Lab at Stanford, is researching the technology’s potential to transform education. (Photo: Linda A. Cicero/Stanford News Service)
In this episode of School’s In, Professor Jeremy Bailenson talks about the educational impact and potential of virtual reality.

Common wisdom holds that we’re the product of our experiences. If that’s the case, could virtual reality also change us—by making us think and feel like we’re doing something we’re not?

Absolutely, says Jeremy Bailenson, professor of communication and director of the Virtual Human Interaction Lab at Stanford. He discussed the technology's role in education on the latest episode of School's In, the SiriusXM radio show hosted by Stanford Graduate School of Education Dean Dan Schwartz and Senior Lecturer Denise Pope.

“The brain has not evolved to differentiate a realistic, vivid experience in VR from an actual experience,” he said. “The point of my lab’s work is to build experiences. And then we use these experiences to make you better, to make you learn, to make you rethink yourself and others.”

When it comes to using virtual reality in school settings, Bailenson said, the technology can augment traditional learning by creating immersive scenarios that students are unlikely to experience otherwise.

“I don’t want to replace the classroom with virtual reality,” he said. “I want to build field trips.”

For instance, Bailenson and his team collaborated with Stanford Graduate School of Education (GSE) professor Roy Pea to build an immersive experience that takes viewers on a seven-minute journey to the bottom of the sea, where they get a close look at the damage that carbon dioxide emissions have on coral reefs and other marine life. “You can swim around a reef and do a species count, pick up shells of snails and look at them,” Bailenson said.

Research has found that this type of simulation generates a stronger sense of empathy in users than regular video because of an effect known as embodied cognition.

“Body movements change learning,” Bailenson said. “Being able to walk around, grab things, experiment and use your hands—it really helps.”

Listen from the link below, and find more episodes of School's In at the Stanford Radio main page. The show airs Saturdays on SiriusXM Insight Channel 121.