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Universities Partner With Bodyswaps to Study Uses for VR

With the participation of more than 20 universities and their researchers, a VR platform developer is mounting a study to gauge how schools can make the most of AR/VR tools for different age groups and use cases.

A young woman wearing a VR headset.
Over 20 colleges and universities in Europe, Canada and the United States are participating in a large-scale study with the virtual reality platform developer Bodyswaps to research the best uses of AR/VR technology for classroom instruction, a recent announcement from the company said.

According to Bodyswaps Head of Partnerships Benjamin Naughton-Rumbo, the six-month trial program will involve over 10,000 student participants and examine the efficacy of the technology across different age groups, student populations and methods of deployment, such as using VR primarily for in-school lessons or for use at home.

The program will involve research efforts at Atlantis University in Florida and Jewell Unlimited, an e-learning program based in Missouri. Other participants include Lethbridge College in Canada, IE Business School in Spain, and several U.K. institutions: the London Screen Academy, Sandwell College, South Essex University, University of Exeter, University of Liverpool, University of Suffolk and Glasgow University, among others.

Naughton-Rumbo said the research aims to gauge students’ appetite for immersive learning and ways that AR/VR can help build student confidence with course content.

“Each institution has its own different deployment method with different students. Some are working with [students] with different disabilities, different age groups and different deployments,” he said. “What we want to find out by the end of this program is, ‘What are the best practices for mixing immersive learning in the education space, from a technology standpoint, and what’s the best hardware?’”

Naughton-Rumbo said much of the VR content offered so far by Bodyswaps focuses on building students’ “soft skills,” such as practicing job interviews, or building their interest in a variety of course topics through virtual field trips to places and moments in time students couldn’t otherwise visit.

“We’ve had good initial responses from using VR in terms of immersive learning for delivering results and in terms of soft skills, so we wanted to do a mass study,” he said. “Particularly for Bodyswaps and what we are focusing on, [AR/VR] provides a psychologically safe space for students. In this environment, they are not being judged by their teachers or friends ... They’re not just memorizing lessons for the sake of it. They’re actually learning things that will help them develop in the future, and that’s made possible with instantaneous AI-powered feedback.”

While AR/VR’s use cases are expanding for skill-building and education purposes, Naughton-Rumbo said there are still a number of barriers holding back mass adoption.

He noted tech developers across the industry are continuing to make improvements to AR/VR technology to widen its applications.

“Right now, I would say there are still some blockers with hardware,” he said. “As the community of VR developers [grows], there are more and more apps that make it sustainable in schools.”

Naughton-Rumbo said the research, which will release its findings next year, could illuminate the most effective uses of AR/VR as a teaching tool rather than a “gimmick.”

“There are so many different variables right now,” he said. “We’ll be putting students through blind assessments to compare students who had access to Bodyswaps with students who didn’t and see how well they perform in certain scenarios.”
Brandon Paykamian is a staff writer for Government Technology. He has a bachelor's degree in journalism from East Tennessee State University and years of experience as a multimedia reporter, mainly focusing on public education and higher ed.