An introduction to Virtual Reality

What is Virtual Reality (VR)?

We didn’t say what is the reality yet and we pretend to start our approach by asking what the non-real reality is. This procedure might seem a bit rare, but after three days reading and thinking we should start somewhere in the middle: the situation where the non-real reality happens and comes to real, at least as a matter of a syllabus in a course (see the whole programme here).

Direct and indirect perception of reality.

One simple way to start could be saying that our brain perceives the environment by our senses: sight, sense of smell, touch, taste, and hearing. Let’s focus now on our sight system. Our brain builds knowledge from the live-action (reality) that is in front of us (remember: «out of sight, out of mind»). All sight perceptions are received directly or indirectly by our eyes. And those stimuli are transformed into electrical signals ready to be interpreted by our brain. From now on, both direct and indirect reflections of reality will guide our reasoning about what VR is.

In the next video, Michael Abrash explains our main point of reasoning in five minutes with the help of some very effective pictures.

Indirect perception of the reality, thus virtual images, are those received by our eyes using a mirror, a filter, an instrument, a technique or any other methodology able to trick our eyes into thinking what we are seeing is real. Therefore, facing highlighted and interesting illusions our brain receives perceptions and makes some assumptions to help the indirect perceptions of the reality virtually work.

Virtual Reality in the origin of times.

Imagine yourself in a different location with different surroundings to where you are at this moment. It is something humans have done for thousands of years. Before technology enables us to gather things up, we have shared stories and imagined events to picture ourselves within each location described to us within the stories. Without the use of any external technology, we were able to vividly imagine ourselves in a different reality to the one we could find ourselves in. This couldn’t really be described as a Virtual Reality, certainly not in the current use of the term. But the history of humans shows that we like to use our mind to picture ourselves in different scenarios and locations.

The help & need of the technology to «transport» our mind to «another world».

Using technology to make this transition transporting us to other places was introduced with the benefit that the approach would be as similar as possible and without the need to rely on our imagination quite so much. We speak about Virtual Reality today when we use this technology to full our senses into really feeling that we are somewhere else, and also believing that we are able to do things that we are not able to achieve in our ordinary daily life. It is this that allows Virtual Reality to become such intriguing and very compelling technological development over the last few years.

So, what is this technology? How does it work in my brain?

At this point, I cannot imagine another way to explain things better than inviting you to watch this video.

Is there any short definition of Virtual Reality?

  • Nowadays, we could say, Virtual Reality is a 3D imagined world that you are able to explore as if you were actually there.
  • We also can say that Virtual Reality is anything that similarly replaces the reality that you are in.
  • There is also involved an idea of interaction, even only by the stimulus you are receiving through the device to jump into it.

The Augmented Reality (AR)
In order to experience the Augmented Reality (AR) we also need to use a technological reception device so that when we focus on some tags or points from the real reality that are included in a coordinate system, our device translates this code showing us some pieces of new information that are imperceptible without using that device.

Last week I downloaded an app and I set it up on the iPad to use it with my 3rd-grade students in the classroom. The students were fascinated with the results, and nobody could predict the impact that we had while using this kind of «adding-on information» technology.

Taking awareness of precise information needed to be shown, this kind of experience wonders how to introduce virtual worlds into physical spaces of the real world. The main question in Augmented Reality is how our environments could be hype with new forms of interaction, new points of view that uprise things from other perspectives hidden or unused until the present day.

One of the defining characteristics of Augmented Reality is that it is subjective. Everybody can see or «test» their own favourite side of reality; everything is able to be customised to meet the different clients’ needs. The viewer interacts with some landmarks and points of interest that really call their attention, so that every viewer may experience it in a totally different way.

Our modest contribution facing this new technology into the educational field.

Inspired by the famous Google Cardboard glasses, I have created a wooden box-shaped device. In order to introduce the VR in the classroom, this instrument will help us to experience some virtual curriculum content and grasp it tasting a new sense of that content’s reality. (I have to say that I am not convinced that this device belongs to the VR field; I have discussed this question in another post that you can access clicking here)

Creating some 3D curriculum content stereoscopic images to introduce Ancient Egypt in Primary Education.

These pictures have been transformed using an image editing software to obtain the 3D view characteristics. All are labelled for free reuse, including modifications.

And these are the 3D results I have created. You also can use your 3D glasses to enjoy this experience now.

Enjoying the experience in the classroom.

I decided to bring my devices to the classroom and let the students enjoy the experience of the 3D images. I used this experience as a warm-up activity to start the lesson with a different point of view, with a different mood, and with a different sense of history. That day we could feel we had a lot of new inputs and some particular sensation of the power of our eyes seeing through those devices.

The following images, which are not hosted on this server, can be found following my last school website’s link (

The potential demand for educational VR experiences.

What subjects is VR going to be good at teaching? Almost every subject that we think about there is some way to be able to use VR to improve it:

  • Geography (Lessons where you can visit any place on the Globe, understand the place and the people who live there).
  • History (Being able to create and make history come alive; putting yourself in the scene and being aware of the historical context).
  • Mathematics (Being able to manipulate formulas, and graphs and equations).
  • Chemistry (Creating a laboratory where there is no expense for the chemicals, no danger of fire, etc..)
  • Social Context Subjects: Getting people to understand difficult situations that can happen in encounters with the police, or with difficult neighbours, etc).

Recommendations before using Virtual Reality devices.

There are some recommendations for using VR devices. But here, instead of making a list, more or less beautiful, I prefer to show you what my students understood and remembered the day after the lesson we had on this topic.

I believe that the most important way to show our knowledge is by asking our students directly. What did they understand the considerations that we mentioned in a previous lesson? I asked them to synthesize the main ideas about the recommendations we have to observe when using the VR devices; here there are some of the results:

There are other recommendations when using these devices with kids (e.g: it is not recommended to use this technology when ages are below 9 years old; it is not recommended to use this technology after periods of intensive physical exercise; it is highly recommended to stop using the devices when any symptom of travel sickness appears). I believe that all the recommendations are not enough to prevent our students, but we cannot pretend to mention all in one lesson without the risk of making our students feel overwhelmed by that list.