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WMU Opens New Virtual Reality Lab

Amir Muhammad

When you were a kid playing video games, did you ever dream that one day you could actually go inside the game and play? Well, that future has arrived with new technology at Western Michigan University’s Waldo Library.

When you hear the words “virtual reality,” maybe you think about living another life through an avatar. Virtual reality can be an all encompassing technology, with uses in both education and entertainment. Kevin Abbot at Waldo Library has found a way to give students and faculty the best of both worlds. But he says that virtual reality can be a bit confusing, at first.

“You can understand it but you really don’t understand the level of emersion and how engaging it is until you put the headset on. It’s quite shocking to people. So I believe that if our faculty are going to integrate it into their classes...they need to have some opportunity to get into the system and take a look at it.”

Waldo Library VR is also a play and workspace for students interested in trying out VR for the first time and and trying their hand at creating content.

“If you come in and you’re interested, then you’ll be oriented. You'll get the software you need to learn. And there’s a set of resources you can access to get your work off the ground. I won’t say that it’s not hard. It is.”

Credit Amir Muhammad / WMUK
A two-dimensional display of a 3D VR game

The educational use of VR tech could be nearly limitless. So says Bill Brieger at the Kalamazoo VR arcade Nova.

“I think we’re on the cusp of having widespread, real-deal, virtual classrooms because the potential is just so extreme. It's just a matter of who’s gonna come along and be a part of that.”

Brieger says virtual reality can also connect students and teachers from around the world and open up different kinds of learning experiences.

“It's so easy to have students from all over the world. You could see their avatars. You could ask questions. You could see when they put their hands up. You could draw things in the air and take them on virtual field trips very easily. That’s right now. But five years from now, if someone really puts their muscle and their money into it, I think the experiences could be a lot more transcendent.”

Virtual reality offers students a unique opportunity for hands on experience. But WMU’s Kevin Abbot says you shouldn’t think of it as just a video game.

“If you plucked a topic out a class, and said, 'We’re gonna make a game out of this,' you’re looking at $100,000 to make something good. To take a whole semester class, you’re looking at a million dollars, $500,000 dollars. And then, how long before that becomes obsolete with the VR? I think that it doesn’t have to be a game. I think it can be just be the topic you want covered.”

Waldo VR is now open in the basement of Waldo Library. The lab is free for use on a first-come, first-served, basis.

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