By Corinne Murdock |
Arizona State University (ASU) has replaced its in-person labs with virtual reality (VR) for its introductory biology courses.
ASU officials explained that they made the switch to increase inclusivity after marking a decline in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) graduates. The university soft-launched the switch last spring to conduct a comparison study, with one class using VR labs and the other using traditional labs. ASU reported that “historically underrepresented” students in the class with VR labs performed better versus that category of students in the class with traditional labs.
Inside Higher Ed reported that students in the class with the VR lab enjoyed watching the cartoon animals and storylines presented, and that some cried when the fictional matriarch of a digitized dinosaur family died in one of the storylines.
Since the historically underrepresented students did well, ASU decided to transition all introductory biology classes to VR.
However, Barrett Honors students had media lab grades one point higher than the collective of students attending VR lab classes. (97 percent versus 96 percent).
The university is also rolling out a new type of introductory biology class using the VR technology that focuses more on developing soft skills.
Introductory biology classes aren’t the only use of VR at ASU campuses. The university is looking to use the technology for a wide range of other classes and programs, such as filmmaking and their Learning Futures program.
ASU began expanding its use of VR through its partnership with VR company Dreamscape in 2020.
In addition to logistical fixes with implementing VR for classes, ASU noted that it was seeking to improve diversity, equity, and inclusion arrangements: more diverse narrator voices, and more diverse avatar options to represent a wider array of the student population (such as body types, gender expression, disability).
Corinne Murdock is a reporter for AZ Free News. Follow her latest on Twitter, or email tips to firstname.lastname@example.org.