Trends and Futures

Day 1 : A brief Introduction to Virtual Visualisation Technology

By Dr Glen O’Grady, Frederick Chew and Craig Gall, Australian National University

Image source: accessed 07/07/2017

“What is it like to walk in someone else’s shoes? Books allow us to imagine it, and movies allow us to see it, but VR is the first medium that actually allows us to experience it.”  NICK MOKEY, “We Have Virtual Reality. What’s Next Is Straight Out Of The Matrix”, Digital Trends, December 19, 2016

Welcome to this Coffee Course in which we will explore Virtual Reality (VR) and how it can be used and the possibilities of VR use within the educational context. Today we will be introducing VR and its origins and then we will be exploring VR in more detail throughout the rest of the week.


You may have heard of Virtual Reality (VR) and Augmented Reality (AR), you may be less familiar with Mixed Reality (MR). All these terms refer to human-computer interfaces that have benefited from recent advancement in display technology, but what exactly are they and how are they different from each other?

A simple explanation of the differences between the technologies are:

  • VR – Replaces the real world with a virtual world
  • AR – Supplements the real world with virtual objects and information
  • MR – seamlessly incorporates virtual objects to the real world.
Image source: accessed 07/07/2017

If you find yourself still confused about the differences, you can find more detail explanation in the following website: VR? AR? MR? Sorry, I’m confused. 

Early 2016 saw the release of the first commercially available high-end VR headsets, the Oculus Rift and HTC Vive, with Sony following up with the more affordable PSVR, for use with its PlayStation 4 platform, in October 2016. With these recent technical leaps and the release of motion tracked Head Mounted Displays (HMD), these technologies have seen a large increase in media exposure and dedicated pages for VR news – RoadtoVR, VRscout, Wareable, and many more. This however is not the first-time VR has tried to enter the mass market, with the first commercial VR headsets being released in the 90’s to a very poor reception by consumers.


The following short video gives a quick overview of the history of VR. 

The video closes with the question “do you want VR in your life?” We and many others think there may be little choice in this, and much like smartphones, VR will begin to impact various aspect of our day-to-day life. No one could have predicted when the first smartphone was released that it would go on to impact our lives so heavily. From social interactions, e-commerce and exercise to navigation, photography and gaming, most people now rely on smartphones for some aspect of there life. Some examples of how great an impact smartphone technology has had on an industry are; Uber, which has had a global impact on the public transportation industry; Instagram, which has changed how we take, store and share photographs, making photo printing labs near obsolete.

One of the key factors for VR to become ubiquitous is its adoption across multiple industries and large amounts of investment. Just under a year after the Oculus Rifts release Oculus was purchased by Facebook for the princely sum of 2 billion US dollars (AUD 2.6bn) Mark Zuckerberg later reported the final figure was more like USD$3bnDigi-Capital reported on the forming of the Virtual Reality Venture Capital Alliance back in July 2016 “the VR Venture Capital Alliance was set up in the second quarter with 30 VC firms and over $10 billion [USD$18bn as of July 2017] in deployable capital.” So the future is looking bright for those invested in exploring virtual reality technologies.

To get your imagination going below is a breakdown of the 2017 VR industry landscape from The Venture Reality Fund, an Early-Stage VR investment group.

Image source:


Today we have briefly covered what VR is, its history and current areas being developed.Please post your responses in the forum and discuss with each other. 

  • Do you think VR will have an impact on your life?
  • Could VR affect the way we teach and learn in the classroom?
  • What other uses can you see in VRs future?


If you want to know more about VR CNET have a page dedicated to the basics of VR.

Education is always listed as one of the top expected uses for VR in the future. In the following sessions we will take a closer look at the affordances of VR and explore how this can be applicable to teaching. Over the next four days we will cover:

  • What constitutes a VR Experience?
  • How do we experience VR?
  • What are the effects of VR on Body and Mind?
  • VR in education now, and the future of VR
  • face-to-face VR experience



Vince, J. (2004). Introduction to virtual reality. Springer Science & Business Media.

Giraldi, G. A., Silva, R., & Oliveira, J. C. (2003). Introduction to virtual reality. LNCC Research Report6.

Heilig, M. L. (1960). U.S. Patent 2,955,156. “Stereoscopic-television apparatus for individual use.”


29 thoughts on “Day 1 : A brief Introduction to Virtual Visualisation Technology

  1. Recently I was able to visit the Cave in the Engineering school at Sunshine Coast University.
    This was an eye opening experience. As a teaching tool it looked great and seems to be of use across the campus. But there was a clunky side…not in the technology but in using it. The Cave will only fit about 15 – 20 students at a time. Students must be on campus and they are limited to the time they spend in there. It enhances their learning but is not a major part of it. Much like when I was a child and the class was allowed watch a movie about the subject (sadly it was usually a religious movie…). For science, medicine, environmental sciences, art and subject like urban design the cave seemed a wonderful tool. I am wondering how and if we will ever see VR used in subjects like law?

    1. The cave is an interesting one as the investment required for hardware and development is very high, but the ability to interact with other users is currently unmatched by other solutions. I think this is where the HoloLens comes in, although I did not find the current iteration of the HoloLens comfortable to use as its visuals (frame rate, tracking, FOV, opacity) lacked, as did the hand tracked interface. This however is still only a dev kit for the device, not the finished product. What really excites me is HoloLens 2 and beyond. What will really change this field is a device that merges AR, VR and MR and for this to become reality all we need is:
      • a self-contained HMD, (Hololens)
      • accurate inside-out-tracking and real-time real-world mapping, (Project Tango)
      • transparent to fully opaque displays, (Field Trip to Mars project) -
      • visual fidelity of high end VR (StarVR) –
      • natural and accurate interface (Leap Motion) –
      • eye tracking for both rendering optimisation and interaction (Fove) –
      • Virtual Retinal Displays (VRD) (Avegant) –
      The tech is all there, we just need to wait for it to all come together and we will have the benefits of a cave without the restrictions of it being in a cave.

      1. Out of interest Craig, do you have any idea how long it might take for all these things to come together? Do you foresee the eventual cost limitations being in hardware or content creation?

        1. I certainly don’t think all these things are going to come together any time soon for several reasons.

          I think in part cost of hardware will be a limiting factor, but something that will hold it back more is segmentation of the marketplace. If a headset is released every few years then you have more target platforms for developers, and thus a whole lot more work. I can see it working more like the games console cycles, where developers will push the old hardware to its limit and we will see some amazing things towards the end of its life as graphics pipelines and so on are optimised. Console generations generally last 4-5 years, although PlayStation had 7 years between there last two main consoles and Xbox was even longer, not to mention the cost of VR being far greater and the market far smaller. It is worth bearing in mind consoles are generally several years behind high end PCs on released to keep cost down, so I think we are more likely to see more PSVR type headsets that StarVR.

          What will drive this merge happening is smaller companies working on the bleeding edge being bought up by the big players. Like Apple, who have been quite tight lipped about their plans for VR/AR purchasing SensoMotoric Instruments a company working on eye tracking.

          In terms of hardware we can thank smartphones for a lot of the tech currently in HMDs, tracking, screens, etc. and I see several of the more imminent breakthroughs coming from other non-VR companies applying their tech to VR, for example TPCAST who work on wireless low latency HD video streaming offering a wireless solution for the HTC Vive. this type of device doesn’t segment the market, improves the user experience and encourages further investment from companies and consumers. For hardware peripherals and addons will be important to the growth of VR, imagine all the things that can now be tracked with the “puck”

          As for the content creation side of things this is only going to get cheaper and easier for small teams. Game engines such as Unity and Unreal have, and are continuing to add VR specific tools which will allow rapid prototyping of concepts and fast iteration for smaller companies cutting costs. It is a different story for large AAA developers, the trend at the moment is to just port a non-VR AAA title to VR and see if it works. I can’t see too many companies taking the risk just yet starting AAA 4-7 yearlong projects on a specific VR only title. The safe money just now is in smaller projects, shorter experiences, and tools that allow other to create and share content. This is great for us as consumers as it means faster iteration, and encourages creation of more experimental experiences which drives growth.

          Sorry a bit of a rambling response but I hope this answers you question.

      2. Wow, so many uses, and link… I can’t imagine what it will be like when, as you said they all come together. I’m a very beginner at VR/AR being a science tecaher. I’m on here to learn and have a better understanding of what my students may be studying in the future.

  2. * Do you think VR will have an impact on your life?

    No. I have tried a few VR headsets, but up until recently these gave me motion sickness. The latest I tried this year were much more usable. But I still don’t see a mainstream use for these in education, or the community generally.

    * Could VR affect the way we teach and learn in the classroom?

    VR will be of limited use for universities. If I was teaching a hands-on skill, such as how to repair a jet engine, then VR might be useful. But for abstract concepts I teach, such as professional ethics, I can’t see it being much use.

    * What other uses can you see in VRs future?

    Hands-on vocational training, rather than academia. However, for more general use I consider Augmented Reality much more useful. This is where the computer image overlays the real world, rather than replacing it completely, as with VR. This makes the experience less claustrophobic. Also you can interact with other people and real objects. I found the Microsoft Hololens comfortable and usable. They could be made much smaller, but even the current version is usable.

    1. As a secondary school teacher, we have started using Google Expeditions. The students have really enjoyed it. Our history teacher used an expedition to take her students into the “trenches” of World War One. Even though only still images, the students really got a lot out of it. Lots more conversations and questions arrows. I used it for ecosystem in science, being able to “immerse” the students in different environments and ecosystems once again create some greater conversations and questions, as well as lots of “oohs and ahhhs” Students commented that if I had of has better images up on the screen or in a book, they would have ben fine, but the having the “less” quality images but in an immersive environment was “way better” – felt more connected and involved.
      As a teacher I really see this a way for giving students another way to connect and engage. This wasn’t just using google cardboard. So as the cost goes down and quality better, it can help engage students in the classroom.

  3. An interesting area. Marianne you ask how VR might be used in law. I know it is being used in court to help judges and juries see the incidents that have led to the case in court. I read an interesting article here:

    It seems American courts have admitted virtual reality evidence in civil cases: Stephenson v. Honda Motors Ltd. of America, Cal.Super. Case No. 81067

    In an educational setting we could use VR to let students experience court from the point of view of a judge, counsel or a witness to help introduce them to the skills they will need to develop as court room lawyers.

    1. Wow Moira thanks for sharing that! I’m blown away by your link to the Virtual Reality evidence. I had not thought of how VR could be used to explore point of view of different roles in a setting like you have mentioned – it is a very fascinating area that takes a lot of the roleplay work done in fields like Law and Medicine to a new level.

    2. Hi Moira and all,

      I like what you say about letting students experience court from different points of view. This might be more relevant as we look at teaching online more often (as we already do).

      In examining the concept of whether we can see it being used in education, I keep being struck by the idea that we have encountered in the GDLP that it is better for students to be ‘inserted’ into their work in the first person by simply sitting at their computers doing the work rather than pretending to engage through a virtual third party (like second life).

      However, I do like the idea of trying to get people to ‘experience’ a situation from the point of view of someone else as a way of encouraging empathy and potentially understanding for a situation that they might not otherwise have any exposure to. I could see that this could be utilised to make perpetrators understand the point of view of victims etc. However I do wonder though whether, like exposure to violence on television making you less empathetic to the violence and/or encourages violent behaviour*, increasing exposure to violence etc in virtual reality actually numbs you to the ‘reality’ of the situation.

      (*although I acknowledge the debate in psychology about this – , Anderson, Huesman and Bushman have published a significant number of papers –including a meta-analysis of previous papers – that suggest that exposure to violence in video game can increase anger and anti-social behaviour. This increase short term aggression in adults is explained as due to priming of preexisting schemas, and cognitive processes and can have longer term effects on children as it actually plays a part in setting in place these schemas and processes ((i.e Bushman, B. J. & Huesmann, L. R. (2006). Short-term and long-term effects of violent media on aggression in children and adults. Arch Pediatr Adolesc Med., 160, 348-352;Carnagey, N. L., & Anderson, C. A. (2004). Violent video game exposure and aggression: A literature review. Minerva Psichiatrica, 45 (1), 1-18; Carnagey, N. L., Anderson, C. A. & Bushman, B. J. (2007). The effect of video game violence on physiological desensitization to real-life violence. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 43, 489–496 . Whereas, Ferguson, Elson (i.e. Elson, M. & C. J. Ferguson, C. J. (2014). Violent digital games and aggression – a review. European Psychologist, 19(1), 33–46) in their own meta-analysis and other studies suggest that statements about the effects of exposure to violent video games are overstated and only supported by mixed evidence that underplays other factors. They assert that once the current generation of gamers matures everyone will forget to be concerned; and they call for differents of evaluating the effects (or even affects) of video gaming beyond the social cognitive perspective)

  4. Do you think VR will have an impact on your life?
    Yes, very much so. But until the headsests start to become common place (not only in homes and education) the variety of software and uses won’t expand. While we’ve seen the prices for the technology decrease recently, I think to get more mainstream adoption prices need come down further.
    I think it will impact my life as a gamer well before it does so in any of my classrooms. Especially as the physical hand controllers continue to develop. I can’t wait for those Haptic-style gloves to give much more genuine control in the virtual environment, allow much more dexterous tasks.

    Could VR affect the way we teach and learn in the classroom?
    It could affect the way hundreds teach. The affordances of VR offers so much especially to disciplines that have training and learning happening in-situ, or experiential learning. What if for pre-chemistry safety instead of doing a multiple-choice quiz the student could experience the consequences of a lab environment in the safety of the Virtual World.

    What other uses can you see in VRs future?
    Simulations, not just digital ones. The kind we don’t event contemplate because the cost of running such an experience would be high, and execution implausible.
    There are a few video games about bomb defusal available today (on other systems than VR), but imagine if you could use VR to add in the tension of a hostage situation, and a physically confined space. Giving the learner a better understanding of experiences on the job?
    The uses are only limited by our budget and imagination.

    1. I really like the idea of using virtual simulations as a way of allowing students to experience the unsafe consequences of their actions in a safe environment. This is a compelling use for this kind of technology.

  5. We had an archaeologist from the National Museum present a workshop for our Honours stream in Classics last year. She was part of a long ongoing project to produce a “Virtual Rome”. If any of you have ever been to the Classics Museum on campus, we have a big model of Rome, which is a great teaching tool, but Virtual Rome allowed us to walk the streets. This meant that you could get a sense of things like line of sight (how could Caesar’s friends not have seen him murdered at Pompey’s theatre?), but also the use of monumental structures and sculpture to promote regimes (and regime change). This becomes even more spectacular when you dial through the years, so (unlike a model, which remains static) you can actually watch the urban landscape change over decades or centuries. I teach language as well (Latin, Classical Greek) and I can imagine lots of VR games that allow students to use their language skills in order to perform tasks (i.e. play!). I think there’s a lot of room for VR in my field.

    1. Chris! I love this idea so much! I did a Classics degree in my undergraduate study and I think this is a fantastic use of VR. I would have loved to “be” in Ancient Rome as part of my study. VR is definitely an ideal tool for things like history and experiencing other parts of the world and other cultures.

      1. Yes, we have used Google Expeditions with our year 7 students – took them to “Ancient Rome and Egypt” . There were way more ” ooohs and ahhhs” than opening up a text book or power point. Lots more questions. Yes it a new “toy” but way more questioning was happening. “hey what’s that” as they moved their heads about.

  6. I think VR in its current form will have quite a limited impact, as it seems largely geared towards entertainment purposes. As VR technology evolves, however, I can see a lot of areas that could utilise the opportunities presented by VR. Education is one of these – as Crystal pointed out, any field that requires some kind of experiential learning could benefit hugely, particularly lab safety, or tasks that require repetitive experiences (titrations in the chemistry lab is one that springs to mind).

    I hope to see VR being used to give people experiences that would be otherwise inaccessible for them. A virtual tour of a laboratory across the other side of the world for example (CERN springs to mind), or an underwater reef dive. I’m quite sure the possibilities are endless.

  7. Traditionally, in English classes it was a must to bring at least a pocket dictionary which is totally out-fashioned now, thanks to several apps available for smart phones. However, with appearing new gadgets such as commercially being produced VR google translate, by using the gadget’s or smart phone’s camera, students can watch in real time as the text is translated to different languages.
    Or suppose we are on a book shop or library, and want to know more about a specific book, it is easier to scan its bar code and get valuable information from apps on our smart phone.
    So, I think due to the fact that utilizing VR technology gives us more convenient access to trusted and valuable information, it would certainly be more widely used in education, marketing, gaming and other aspects of human life-style.
    However, every convenience and ready-access tools has its own drawbacks, which could include less motivation for exploring, and reducing physical activities, which should be really considered and be aware of.

  8. # Do you think VR will have an impact on your life?

    It is very hard to see VR (as opposed to AR) becoming ubiquitous in the same way that smartphones are. It’s not clear to me what the broad applications of VR are, beyond simply experiential – what application will bring VR into every living room? Given the right devices, and procedurally generated content, I can imagine AR become widely used.

    # Could VR affect the way we teach and learn in the classroom?

    One can imagine lots of situations where some VR simulation might be helpful, but I agree that it’s difficult to see how it will become a large part of the way we teach. My concern would be the cost – not so much the hardware itself, but in the expertise and effort required to produce genuinely useful educational experiences, which may be used by a relatively small number of students (perhaps 50 per year for a few hours each for a specific “experience”). The vast majority of academics will not have this expertise, and bridging that gap might be the hardest part.

    I suppose one (relatively) trivial application might more immersive live streaming of lectures to improve flexible learning.

    # What other uses can you see in VRs future?

    I think VR has a powerful role to play in outreach, particularly in the near term. I work at the ANU Heavy Ion Accelerator Facility, and we have many groups of students visiting from the ACT, and it’s often quite an inspirational experience. However, particularly in a country the size of Australia, it’s nearly impossible for many people to visit our facility, and very many people will not be able to visit (and be inspired by) any major scientific facilities. So why not take our awesome facilities to them?

    It would be also interesting to see how VR can be used for multi-parameter data analysis – something we do an awful lot of. In some ways we are limited to exploring data in 2D (or 2D+colour), which can make it hard to spot correlations. It would be interesting to explore data in 3D, with colour, and use time to explore a further variable.

  9. 1. Do you think VR will have an impact on your life?
    Re: Yes in the future but no at present. Other than the e-sport gaming industry, I have been rarely exposed to the VR technology so far. Without VR at present, I would expect little substantial changes to my life. In the future, I would imagine there will be huge potential to be realised with VR in healthcare and education industries. One obstacle though, is how much “reality” has been realised by the VR technology. My perception is that VR is preset by the exisitng algorithms. What if these algorithms are faulty or imperfect? It looks like we need decent knowledge to purposefully establish decent virtual “reality” scenarios.

    2. Could VR affect the way we teach and learn in the classroom?
    Re: Yes, for sure. I think it is trendy for students to have “hands-on” virtual experience to translate knowledge into practice. In particular, it is also very cool to test students with virtual challenges.

    3. What other uses can you see in VRs future?
    Re: again, in theory (possibly I am wrong), it could be applied to every industry, just like the emergence of internet. For healthcare industry in particular, I would anticipate VR to generate new knowledge or experiences with the help of AI, in particular learning from human errors in virtual reality. Failure leads to success as sometimes human errors may create beauties.

  10. Marinne, we used to have a half-cave “Wedge” at ANU Computer Science (Boswell & Gardner, 2001). This was made by removing the corridor wall from an office and erecting two translucent screens, at right angles, with a projector behind each. Users wore LCD shutter glasses (as used for 3D TV).

    The first time I saw the Wedge I was so distracted I walked into a concrete post. This raises the issue of safety with VR: those using it and those around them, can be so distracted they are at risk. One VR scene I tried had virtual safety barriers in the simulation to stop you straying too far. But even so there had to be a non-VR equipped person there to supervise. Part of the simulation was so real I got vertigo from looking over a virtual precipice.


    Boswell, R., & Gardner, H. (2001, September). The wedge virtual reality theatre. In Apple University Consortium Academic and Developers Conference.

  11. I can see more practical applications for AR than VR in the short term – it’s already relatively well established conceptually in training, with thing like the BMW AR system

    Without some significant rethinking of pedagogy, VR largely offers virtual field trips it seems. Which are valuable but we’re at the Substitution end of the SAMR model for ed tech. (gotta start somewhere though)

  12. * Do you think VR will have an impact on your life?

    Yes. I think it will be one of those things that permeates many levels of life, without leaving much room to resist!

    * Could VR affect the way we teach and learn in the classroom?

    Yes, I think it could have great use in the classroom. One example that comes to mind for biology teaching is this – do you remember ‘the magic school bus’ that could shrink down and drive through the human body to demonstrate various aspects of physiology? That sort of thing could be a (virtual) reality with VR!

    * What other uses can you see in VRs future?

    I’m wondering if it could be useful in any way for training among athletes. An example – perhaps rockclimbers could use VR to visualise and memorise a climbing route?

  13. G’day Team. This could be a real “fun” set of discussions 🙂

    *Do you think VR will have an impact on your life?*
    Was it deliberate to mention only VR here? My colleagues and I are working on both Enhanced and Virtual Reality up at the National Arboretum Canberra. If you “look” at a tree you can “see” the data we have collected on it and get an idea of that tree’s interaction with those around it. So, if you are physically walking through the Arboretum you can “see” are this additional (enhanced) data, but the same data can be provided in a head-up Virtual Environment while you are safe from the elements walking around in a nice big (empty) room! So, yes, certainly already having an impact in the way we “see” and teach ecology.

    *Could VR affect the way we teach and learn in the classroom?*
    Again, interesting question …why the “classroom” focus? Once you have a VR headset on surely you can be in a “virtual classroom” if you wish or in a physical classroom but feel as though you are all by yourself. I published an article in The Conversation a little while ago about the “Sage on the Stage”, but concluded that there may still be a role for “public gatherings” of students to help reinforce the importance and social/collegiality of learning. So maybe VR classrooms, where individuals in their own far flung spaces can feel as though they are together in a classroom of peers might actually be a great use of VR 🙂 Of course, taking my classroom of students for a walk through the ecology of far flung or even dangerous places would also be a great use of VR.

  14. I think that VR is almost entirely focused on entertainment and gaming right now like with the Vive and Oculus Rift. If VR is ever going to become ubiquitous like smartphones, it will have to extend beyond that. The current VR goggles and headsets are cumbersome and expensive which limits their applicability to anything beyond people’s houses or specialized environments. This will be another limit to any kind of widespread adoption by the common consumer. In my personal experience with the Vive, VR feels completely different to just playing a game on a screen. There is far greater immersion and especially if movement of the user is allowed, you can start to forget where you are outside the virtual reality. However, any increase in the complexity and effort to use a product will drive down adoption. It is those aspects that need to be resolved before VR could take off. It has to become easy, in the same way smartphones are.

    With respect to education, I think that any learning that can be enhanced with increased immersion could be enhanced with VR or AR. Simulations and simulators have now a long history in education and training for jobs or environments that are dangerous or expensive. I can see VR/AR taking off in those fields such as the military or space work. As Cris says, the integration of information more seamlessly into experiences can assist the learning process. An interesting application was raised by Ed Simpson, where you can visualise and interact with data in more dimensions, possibly more inuitively and extract more meaning than sets of data displayed according to the limitations of a flat screen. Another possible application is in design, where instead of using 3d CAD software, you would interacting ‘directly’ with the object and parts in a more intuitive way and with the integration of part information into the reality.

    1. Hi Jackson, welcome! I love the suggestion of using VR for CAD! I think that would be a really compelling application where you can physically manipulate digital objects that will eventually become real objects. I’m wondering about the intersection of VR CAD and other technologies like 3D printing – I suspect there are lots of opportunities there for bringing digital objects to life.

  15. I think VR will have some use in our daily lives in the future (especially in gaming). In education it probably depends on the specific field. I see VR most useful in having virtual field trips (like Google expeditions or Virtual Rome) where a real trip is physically impossible or prohibitively expensive. In language teaching, I’ve come across Mondly, a VR app for learning languages. It is moving in the general direction of gamification of learning, and I think it can be a nice supplement, but I don’t see it replacing more traditional forms of language learning through human interaction.

  16. VR is definitely a powerful learning technology and will affect classroom teaching by providing teachers with more avenues to incorporate experiential learning. In the field of medical education and medical training, VR is already being used extensively. It is a safe way to simulate trauma and develop clinical skills such as surgical skills. As a Learning Designer working in this field, if and when VR becomes more mainstream in education, it will have minimal impact on me as I see it as something that will augment traditional teaching and I still have to focus on the learning design. I will have to know more about it to effectively incorporate it in the curriculum or training design but that’s common to every educational technology that I work with.

    One barrier that I see for VR’s more widespread implementation is cost.

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