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Specialist College of Virtual Reality?

East Marshall High School in Le Grande, Iowa, in the United States is a small public school with 270 students. It has been rated highly by the local authorities, and appears on more than a few 'top school' ratings in that country's charts. It is also one of the first traditional schools/universities worldwide, to embrace learning in virtual reality with open arms.

Not just Telelearning, or learning in social environments like Second Life, East Marshall High School are following the true, old-school meaning of virtual reality, and they have their own high end VR simulation equipment on site, accessible to the students. This includes a full immersion rig from Fakespace Systems, which arrived earlier this year.

The Mayo Clinic and Foundation for Medical Education and Research in Rochester, Minneapolis recently upgraded one of their Fakespace CAVE rigs to a new system, and found they simply did not have a use for the old one. So, rather than throw the $100,000 system away, they donated it to the High School, who were actively seeking some form of immersive VR equipment, with a substantially lower budget to spend. On top of that, Fakespace themselves, offered their expertise to set the system up, making it the first time such a system has ever been installed professionally in a School by a VR hardware firm.

School Principal Rex Kozak said since receiving the equipment, his students have literally delved into the unknown and discovered seemingly unlimited possibilities. From the start, when the equipment arrived, five senior year students distinguished themselves, working with it, learning about it's operation and passing their knowledge onto others.

Austin Madison, Josh Knutson, Jordan Taylor, Grant Ferguson and Ben Dilger have all since expressed desire to progress into careers where such systems are increasingly being deployed. Four of the students have taken the Mayo Foundation's generosity to heart, and said they were looking to pursue careers in the medical field. The fifth, said he would seek training in law enforcement, a field in which such immersion training is relatively recent, but for which demand is beginning to skyrocket as empirical data is increasingly showing substantial benefits to officer training.

Kozak said they led the way in researching and exploring the different ways the school can use the virtual reality system for its specialised and mainstream courses.

Each student used their study hall time during the second semester to read from one of a dozen different manuals the system required and tinker with the complex programs the unit uses.

The five seniors have been helping some of their peers from the year below learn the basics of the technology so the cycle of knowledge continues after they graduate.

They admitted that many of the elements of the system were still a mystery to them, including the process of stereoscopy, where two different 3D images are blended to create natural realism, allowing the world inside the simulation to feel like the one outside - it looks right rather than a computer monitor.

The principal is enthusiastic about the VR equipment to the point of desiring to install more. A lot more. Kozak has stated his intention of becoming a virtual reality school, one where students can explore potential careers such as automotive repair and welding and can perform science class dissections without sticky fingers and chloroform. One where geometry classes can explore the inner structure of shapes from the inside, and sports students optimise their own form virtually, to tell them how best to train for peak condition.

References

The Mayo Clinic
http://www.mayo.edu/

East Marshall Community School
www.e-marshall.k12.ia.us/

Times Republican: East Marshall making actual, virtual progress
http://www.timesrepublican.com/Central%20Iowa/articles.asp?articleID=9523

Staff Comments

 


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