Fort Bragg officials and area educators believe it can, and are working to make virtual reality a reality for students in Richmond County.
Faculty and staff members of Richmond Community College and Richmond County Schools, along with representatives from other area organizations, got a glimpse of the future classroom, where instructors are able to walk their students through tasks and processes in a three-dimensional, computer-generated environment.
Fort Bragg’s Division of Base Closure and Realignment Commission is donating the technology to educational institutions within an 11-county region to bring virtual reality into the classroom.
“We’re attempting to look forward,” Richmond Community College President Dr. Sharon Morrissey told those at the demonstration of this equipment Thursday morning. “We want to develop the 21st Century workforce, and we’ll need to use 21st Century technology.”
Fayetteville Technical and Community College (FTCC) Director of Technology Innovations and Applications David Smith introduced the technology, which is already being developed to be utilized in the classroom at FTCC.
“We’re looking at integrated functionality,” he said. “My background is as an educator, so I look at technology from an educational standpoint. I want to know what it can do in a classroom. The way to look at this technology from a classroom standpoint is to ask, ‘What is difficult to show and demonstrate to students?’”
He noted the technology can be used to move from a passive learning method to an active learning method by allowing students to manipulate the environment around them and actually do the thing they are studying to do.
He used the illustration of nursing students training to work in a surgery suite.
“Can you imagine the cost savings of having a virtual suite, rather than having to build a lab?” Smith asked.
He also noted this technology could break down the barriers of literacy and language, by physically demonstrating how to do things instead of explaining them.
FTCC Deputy IDC Director/Program Manager Don Seidel explained the applications his institution is developing to use this technology, in the areas of nursing, personal computer design and repair, dental assisting and criminal justice.
Seidel explained the applications of making a virtual crime scene for criminal justice, a personal computer with components that can be removed and highlighted and a digital body for nursing students to penetrate with needles at length.
“BRAC is really looking at how this can be utilized in the classroom, that’s the start,” BRAC Representative Dr. Jane Smith said. “Right now, we’re kind of fielding guinea pigs to use it and give feedback.”
Seidel also explained the technology will be equipped with three tabs on the computer page, to initiate the three areas it will operate in: demonstration, practice and evaluation.
The technology will first demonstrate a task or concept, then the student will be able to practice performing this task with prompts and, finally, in the evaluative stage students will be tested, and perform the task without prompts.
The demonstration included a helicopter, an interactive model of the human head and a interactive course for nursing students prompting them to do the steps required to run an arterial line.
“What does the 21st Century classroom look like using this technology when you’re using models, and having your students make these models?” Smith asked the crowd. “... And the other question is how you maximize your manpower with this technology? Say for instance, you have a course that (someone) needs for economic development, but you don’t have the course or anyone to teach it? Do you go to another institution through conferencing equipment to offer the course.”
Several educators in the audience shared their thoughts on utilizing this technology in the classroom.
“I could use it to demonstrate techniques, and also for museum trips,” RCC Art Instructor Joyce Ryals said.
“I think we could use it in drafting, automotive, all of our CET courses could use this technology, and it would benefit them all,” Richmond County Schools Crew Technical Education Director Martha Webb said.
Some military applications of the equipment were also discussed, including the breakdown and reassembly of an M-16 rifle, and the virtual mapping of a village in Afghanistan.
“This technology is just the tip of the iceberg,” Morrissey said. “This is a portable unit, I’ve been to the one that’s set up at Fayetteville Tech, and it is a room with three walls, and the whole room is the 3-D environment ... Hopefully, we’ll have one of those soon.”