School of Health Sciences at Forefront of Incorporating Virtual Reality into Educational Experience
A virtual reality headset that enables students to learn about the human body may sound like science fiction, but it is now part of the classroom experience for students in the University's School of Health Sciences.
September 27, 2019
By Renee Chmiel, Office of Marketing and Communications
As Holly Barkal '21 guided members of the University community through a virtual room in which they could explore the different systems or parts of the human body, she noticed their amazement. They were immersed in an interactive world in which they could learn visually, while taking a "hands on" approach – even though they were not in a classroom at all.
Barkal made the presentation at the University's Centennial celebration last spring at the historic St. Regis in New York City, where she showed guests the cutting-edge virtual reality technology that students in the University's School of Health Sciences are now using in the classroom.
"People of all ages had the same response to the technology – they were amazed by how easy it is to use, said Barkal, a dental hygiene major. "They liked that they can direct the technology, and they were impressed by how real it seems. It will give students opportunities that they wouldn't otherwise have – even in a laboratory. Ultimately, it will benefit patients."
The virtual reality headsets include hardware – the HTC Vive Focus – and software called 3D Organon VR Anatomy. The University has ordered more than two dozen units, which will be used during the 2019-20 academic year.
"The jump is almost as large as one would experience going from radio to television, but instead of watching a screen, you are actually inside the software ... students are amazed when they use it for the first time."Ashish Upadhyaya, director of the Health Professions Advising Center
At the Centennial celebration, University of New Haven Board of Governors member David Peterson '88 tried one of the headsets, and it was one of his favorite moments of the evening.
"The virtual reality showcase was amazing," he said. "I'm glad to see the University moving in that direction."
Ashish Upadhyaya, MBA, a lecturer in the University's School of Health Sciences and director of the Health Professions Advising Center, says that students are equally impressed when they first use the technology.
"Even though they have heard about it, they are still unprepared for the experience when they actually use it," he said. "The jump is almost as large as one would experience going from radio to television, but instead of watching a screen, you are actually inside the software. Even after I explain it, students are amazed when they use it for the first time."
The technology is already being used in paramedicine classes in anatomy and physiology, and it places students directly in front of an anatomical model of a human body system. They can then explore systems, such as the digestive or circulatory system, or they can explore individual muscles, organs, or bones.
Upadhyaya says he hopes that biology students will begin using the technology in their courses as well.
"This is vital because this generation of students tends to be more visual learners," he said. "Students thrive when they are in a highly engaging environment, such as one that includes virtual reality technology."