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Texas A&M graduate student using virtual reality to advance teaching methods in engineering classes

Updated: May. 11, 2021 at 11:01 PM CDT
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COLLEGE STATION, Texas (KBTX) - A Texas A&M graduate student is using virtual reality to change the way engineering courses are taught.

Jaskirat Singh Batra is a doctoral candidate at Texas A&M’s College of Engineering. He used cardboard virtual reality viewers with the aid of smartphone apps and YouTube videos to help students better understand 3D scientific concepts.

Batra also conducted a study to measure how the motivation of students who experienced the virtual reality learning method changed. It found 77% of those students showed an increase in motivation.

”What this study has been able to show is that virtual reality is one way to capture their motivation and attention for the duration of the module that they’re watching,” Batra said. “Then, I can now direct that attention towards learning a difficult concept and make that more fun and engaging for them.”

Batra says he used a 40-year-old motivation model that has been used by instructional designers. It breaks motivation down into four components - attention, relevance, confidence, and satisfaction.

“This model comes along with a survey that the students took,” Batra said. “The survey allowed us to measure all four of those components.”

Virtual reality could be used as a way to help students better focus on more difficult concepts, Batra says.

By using cardboard virtual reality viewers, Batra says this form of teaching can be cost-effective and affordable enough to integrate into classrooms anywhere.

“One of the limitations with being able to do this in the classroom previously would have been with the virtual reality headsets. Those are typically very complicated that requires a lot of setup, and that’s not easy to do on the fly in the classroom. Only a few students can use them at a time,” Batra said. “These virtual reality cardboard viewers are relatively easy so students are able to set them up themselves and put their own smartphones and headphones inside.”

Safety was another factor Batra needed to address when using virtual reality in the classroom. There’s a possibility students could get injured or suffer an accident if they’re walking around and bumping into one another while engaged in the virtual environment.

“They did not happen in this class at all because of how we designed the virtual reality to operate,” Batra said. “I gave the students instruction they had to stay seated in their rotating chairs the whole time.”

By keeping students seated, Batra says it makes this technology and method of teaching accessible to students with disabilities who may be unable to walk.

In a separate venture, Batra was also awarded a $4,000 grant to investigate the social learning experiences of underrepresented and first-generation engineering students. He says the money allows him to dive deeper into student experiences when they were engaged in online learning environments.

“We hope to learn more about our underrepresented and first-generation students because we really need to bring their experiences out and find out if they have any barriers in learning in the online environment,” Batra said. “We want to make sure that we don’t forget about them and give them the resources and support they need in case we were to continue using online education at any place in the future.”

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