Bringing the Virtual Class to Life


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Penn State to examine effectiveness for distance learning in engineering courses
As higher education increases online course options, one fundamental problem remains: the lack of real-time, immersive interactions during classroom instruction. A team led by Penn State’s Conrad Tucker aims to change that by combining three dimensional scanning of an engineering classroom with an Oculus Rift device fitted with Leap Motion technology.

The assistant professor of engineering design and industrial engineering, Tucker said, “the student will be able to use their hands to rotate, explore and dissect a virtual model the same way a traditional student would explore a physical object or prototype with his or her hands.”

The 3-D mesh of the room will let students learning from a distance experience the furniture, computers, whiteboards and anything else in the classroom. For intangible classroom interactions, which involve communicating concepts and ideas, student will use the virtual reality environment to create and augment how those concepts are communicated, Tucker said.

Researchers plan to compare the effectiveness of each setting by testing students who were present in engineering design, industrial engineering and architectural engineering courses with students who learned the concepts from a distance.