Virtual worlds

Virtual Worlds, Real Education | The voice

Written by Garrett Christensen

EOU expands access to virtual reality for students

Photo by: Garrett Christensen

In recent years, virtual reality has evolved from an expensive experimental novelty to a technology on the verge of being applied and adopted by mass consumers. Of all the places in Oregon where one might try the booming rig, the humble La Grande might not seem like a favored choice. However, the Eastern Oregon University Library not only has access to several VR setups, but makes them available to students and staff for free.

The EOU Library purchased the VR platforms last summer as part of a grant from the American Rescue Plan Act and administered by the State Library of Oregon. The goal was to create a VR setup accessible both for academic use by classes and also for recreational use by students. In an interview with The Voice, associate library professor Sarah Ralston explained,

“I partner with specific instructors and specific classes to provide virtual reality experiences or assignments that they can use in their classes… The other goal is just to make it available for students to take walk in and walk in and use VR either for educational purposes or just to relax and let off steam.

Students will have no shortage of ways to relax in virtual reality. Currently, the library has access to 11 different VR programs ranging from rhythm and shooter games, speech coaching programs, documentaries to professional level medical simulation tools. While some programs were specifically selected for coursework, others were chosen based on recommendation. The full list includes:

  1. Sharecare you.
  2. I am a man.
  3. Mondly VR.
  4. VR Guided Meditation.
  5. VR meditation.
  6. Google earth.
  7. Speech trainer.
  8. Fallout 4.
  9. Defeat Saber.
  10. Ecosphere.
  11. Traveling in black.

Students can register for an appointment online through the EOU Library page or by contacting Professor Ralston at [email protected] Appointments are booked in two-hour blocks with library staff providing instruction and demonstrations to new VR users. Currently, the library has access to six VR platforms, a standalone Oculus Quest, and five other platforms that require an Alienware laptop. The library has a dedicated VR studio on the ground floor and three open study rooms that can also support VR. These rooms include display screens so groups can watch with the VR user. The overall setup is designed to be both fully immersive and completely accessible to the average student, Ralston telling The Voice,

“I’ve had students tell me it’s a great way to de-stress. You see nothing else; you think of nothing else; you can’t be disturbed by your phone or anything. It’s such an immersive experience. We really tried to make it as accessible as possible for students.

Despite the lure of new technology, only about 60 students have tried virtual reality and most of those cases were for classes. A VR-destress event in residence halls using the Oculus Quest only attracted six students. However, plans are still underway to expand the project with additional programs and greater on-campus outreach, with possible collaboration with the 1-up gaming club being discussed. About the new anti-stress programs, Ralston told The Voice,

“Anything that can be related to stress relief or fitness I think would be great. Beat Saber is awesome that way. Even though it’s a game, it’s very physical. They list it as an accidental fitness app just because you move around a lot when you do it Not everything is educational, part of it is just giving students another way to relax or decompress during times of stress.

Of course, since this is a university project, the educational side of virtual reality is booming. Some professors have expressed interest in developing student content creation via 360 cameras while others have expressed interest in using virtual reality for lab training sessions and simulated hands-on. Ralston contacted the history, communication and science departments for possible collaboration. However, biology professor Shaun Cain’s human health and performance class demonstrated the greatest potential for on-campus VR education with the Sharecare You program.

Sharecare You, as described by Ralston, is an “app that allows students to visualize the organs and systems of the human body in virtual reality.” The program is far from just a virtual body tour with a few added effects, as H&P student Alyssa Luna explained in an interview, “You can literally be inside the brain and see the ‘aorta pump’ and I tried it and I was like ‘oh my God!’ You can put in a disease and see how it affects neurons and how it affects brain tissue… It was just more exciting to be like ‘ok, what next?’

According to Luna, the Sharecare You program not only enables real-time demonstration of human body systems and diseases, but has also created a new interest among H&P students to actively learn about the body and visualize components in person as well. beyond the potential value of typical lectures and slide show demonstrations.

Overall, the public application of technology may be in its infancy, but the potential is there and is in the library at students’ fingertips. As Ralston described it, the platform is still niche, but the bewilderment of students who have tried it speaks for itself, whether for educational or recreational purposes. As Luna says,

“I think adapting to new technologies can be very beneficial for us students. Personally, during finals week and being in a small town like La Grande, it’s good to be able to come to the library knowing that ‘there’s a stress reliever. Like, Beat Saber, you jump in, and you think you’re only going to play for an hour, and you catch yourself here for three or four hours and you’re like “wow, my body really needed it.”

For more information about the VR grant, individual VR programs, or to schedule an appointment, visit the EOU VR Library page at: