Education and training are among the many disciplines EVL’s research and development efforts are focused upon. From the deployment of virtual reality hardware in elementary schools, museums and research institutions - through the development of cultural heritage applications for undergraduate humanities studies, surgical simulations or training systems for manufacturing and factory planning, education plays a significant role in EVL’s research agenda.
At the Lincoln Elementary School in Oak Park, Illinois, EVL has conducted a series of studies to explore the impact of virtual reality technologies on the learning of 3rd, 4th and 5th graders in observational scientific investigation. An ImmersaDesk™ system was the initial platform used in the study, which has since expanded to include a plasma display coupled with a handheld PocketPC for data collection, and the GeoWall™, a low-cost, non-tracked, passive-stereo system allowing participants to be immersed in 3-dimensional content.
The Virtual Harlem Project, a collaborative virtual-reality learning environment that enables people to study New York’s Harlem Renaissance as it existed in the mid-1930s was translated the to the CAVE in 1999. Since the initial stand-alone version was developed, a networked experience allowed for African American literature classes to be taught concurrently at the University of Missouri and UIC (spring 2001) connecting students and classrooms for remote collaboration. Virtual Harlem established an experimental testbed for educators and researchers; subsequent cultural heritage projects are underway linking a broad range of UIC departments and other collaborating institutions together for distributed learning experiences.
The GeoWall Consortium has also embraced the use of virtual reality technology to support the visualization of geoscientific data for classroom use and geological fieldwork. The goal of EVL’s research efforts in this area is to connect distantly located classrooms or collaborators operating GeoWall systems for the simultaneous study / review of geological data. Direct access to and visualization from remote seismic datasets either in real time from seismometers around the world or data archives will lead not only to a greater knowledge and understanding, but scientific discovery as well.
EVL is working with UIC’s VRMed Lab to develop a tele-immersive system for the digital construction of cranial implants needed by traumatic head injury patients. Immersive VR, coupled with a force-feedback Phantom haptic device is used to simulate the way prosthetists mold implants. Networked devices allow for the training of distantly located prosthetists by having the Phantom mimic the movements made during the virtual molding process; the experts hands can in effect “guide” the novice’s remotely. A similar system is also being used to train UIC dental students in root scaling and planning by simulating the forces that a dentist feels during a correctly performed procedure.
These are only a few of the ongoing educational research projects EVL is engaged. It is fully expected to see widely adopted use of advanced visualization technologies and applications in educational curricula, in part, due to the results of these EVL research efforts.