ScienceVR: A Brief Introduction

ScienceVR is a Palo Alto, California-based startup which describes itself as follows:

ScienceVR is an indie VR studio in its early days. We are passionate about visualizing human knowledge and abstract ideas by turning them into immersive and delightful experiences. We are a team of XR prototypers, educators, and storytellers working on a metaverse build on top of distributing human knowledge.

ScienceVR offers two different products: a series of web-based social VR events, and a line of virtual reality apps for various VR headsets including the Oculus Quest, Oculus Rift, and HTC Vive. Here’s a quick promo video, with ScienceVR founder and CEO Jackie Lee:

You can see the line-up of science and literature related events here (you can only register for the first three so far, and they are all free to attend).

The immersive lesson apps include (all descriptions were taken verbatim from the website):

Ada’s Engines: With Ada’s Engines, travel back in time to Charles Babbage’s salon to witness the Difference Engines in action. Then, find yourself transported to an Industrial Age workshop. Compile and execute a piece of music on a programmable Analytic Engine, as envisioned by Ada Lovelace. In Lovelace’s Notes, she wrote, “the engine might compose elaborate and scientific pieces of music of any degree of complexity or extent.” (for Oculus Rift and HTC Vive)

Carroll’s Riddles: Carroll’s Riddles: The Game of Logic is a fantastical and puzzling world based on the works of British logician and writer Lewis Carroll (1832-1898). You are invited on a journey to become immersed in the idiosyncrasies of Carroll’s mental landscape. Upon entering the virtual world, you meet with Alice and a talking rabbit. Aided with an interactive Carroll Diagram, you make your way out of the tree hole by tackling logic riddles. This immersive journey is unlike any other, pushing the limits of your imagination and challenging you to find logic in a nonsensical world. (for Oculus Quest)

Curie’s Radiance: Curie’s stories and scientific discoveries. This is an interactive adventure through the discovery of radioactive elements – Radium and Polonium, inviting users to engage with science in unexpected and memorable ways. (for Oculus Quest, and there’s even a version for the Magic Leap One!)

Faraday’s Magnets: What if we can visualize invisible forces around magnets? Step into a virtual and interactive laboratory built based on historical materials related to Michael Faraday and James Clerk Maxwell. This experience enables your learners to see the “invisible forces” around magnets. (for Oculus Rift and Oculus Quest)

Shelley’s Creation: Shelley’s Creation (work-in-progress) is a special sci-fi VR experience built based on biology, history, and sci-fi stories around Mary Shelley’s book – Frankenstein, or the Modern Prometheus. We start by re-creating the scene from 1816 so that our users can answer Mary Shelley’s question:

“Would life be given? Perhaps a corpse would be re-animated; Galvanism had given token of such things: perhaps the component parts of a creature might be manufactured, brought together, and endued with vital warmth.”

Our users will follow these thinkers’ inspirations including traveling to John Milton’s Paradise Lost, meeting Lucia and Luigi Galvani when they discover Galvanism, competing in Lord Byron’s ghost story contest, and solving the mystery of electricity and biology. (for Oculus Quest)

If you are interested in ScienceVR, visit their website or follow them on social media: Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. While the apps appear to be single-user VR, the line-up of events is social VR, so I am adding ScienceVR to my comprehensive list of social VR and virtual worlds.

LinguaVirtua: Coming Soon—Learning a Foreign Language Using Social VR

LinguaVirtua is a Taiwan-based company offering foreign language classes using the social VR platform Vircadia. (Vircadia is the volunteer-run product founded on the open-source code of the original High Fidelity social VR platform which folded in early 2020.) According to a company blogpost:

We used Vircadia, an open-source VR platform that allows people to build and explore VR worlds, to build a virtual version of our LinguaVirtua meetups. Learn more about Vircadia here: https://vircadia.com/

If you’re interested in learning languages in a fun and informal way, VR is the best option – best of all, you get to meet and socialize with other language learners, right in the comforts of your own home!

I chatted with the organizer via Discord (his name is Ryan, too!), and he told me:

I’m the creator of LinguaVirtua. Currently we’re not holding regular language meetups in Vircadia, but we have been planning to. We have had a few experimental language meetups inworld and they were a lot of fun. We’ve been holding regular events on Discord and I was hoping to get at least a small percentage of our 2,300 Discord members to join our language meetups in Vircadia…

I’ve been hosting offline language meetups for several years across Singapore, Philippines and Taiwan, and since Covid-19 platforms such as Discord and Vircadia have really helped allow us to continue since we couldn’t meet in person. It also gave us an opportunity to become more international as we now have people joining from all over the world.

On overhead view of the LinguaVirtua village in Vircadia

While we wait for LinguaVirtua to relaunch in Vircadia, you might be interested to know that LinguaVirtua also runs an active Discord server with over 2,300 members, featuring both text and voice channels in many different languages.

For further information about LinguaVirtua, please visit their website, or follow them on social media: Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn, and YouTube.

Teaching Business Students Using Social VR at Temple University

Ronald Anderson, dean of the Fox School of Business at Temple University, using a VR headset (image source)

The Fox Business School at Temple University in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, is among the first business schools in the world to teach courses in virtual reality, using a custom-built social VR platform. University newspaper The Temple News reports:

As Divya Pawar sat in her Fintech, Blockchain and Digital Disruption class listening to the lecture, she was able to get a good view of Pollet Walk from her seat. When class ended, she took off her Oculus Quest Virtual Reality headset and continued working at home in her off-campus apartment.

“It’s like you’re in a Temple classroom, like you’re sitting with your classmates,” said Pawar, a master’s of business administration student. “It was an amazing experience, it kind of transforms your space.”  

In March 2020, the Fox School of Business first held Fintech, Blockchain and Digital Disruption, a graduate-level course that is offered once per year and is among the first MBA-level courses to feature a VR format among colleges and universities in the United States. Although the course operates virtually, it incorporates classroom discussions along with virtual visual elements from Temple’s Main Campus that create an environment comparable to the traditional, on-campus experience…

Students can participate in Fintech, Blockchain and Digital Disruption remotely by wearing Oculus Quest VR headsets. With the headsets on, students sit at virtual seats in a lecture hall, surrounded by avatars of other members of the class, and can talk to one another through the headsets as they get views of Temple’s Main Campus outside the lecture hall’s windows…

Students receive the Oculus Headsets in the mail and return them to the Fox School of Business after they complete the course.

Bora Ozkan, a finance professor, teaches Fintech, Blockchain and Digital Disruption and appears in the center of the virtual lecture hall as an avatar where he can see students raise their hands and actively engage with one another.

Zoe Rosenberg reported on the program for The Inquirer:

Before the pandemic made online schooling a necessity, Bora Ozkan theorized that students learning remotely would be more engaged in virtual reality. Ozkan, a finance professor at Temple University and academic director of its online MBA, has tested that belief since March 2020, when he launched the class Fintech, Blockchain and Digital Disruption in a virtual reality, or VR, program.

It took 18 months to research the technology and build the course at a cost upward of $100,000. The finished product was completed with the help of Glimpse Group, a New York-based virtual reality and augmented reality company.

It’s an investment that Temple’s Fox Business School was excited to make because university officials hope it can become a model for higher education VR courses.

“When I teach classes on Zoom, there’s a disconnect,” Ozkan said. “When we asked students last year to compare their VR experience to Zoom, almost all of them said [VR] is better or much better. Which is why we decided to offer it again this year.”

The business school will continue offering this course in VR, and plans to incorporate virtual reality into other courses as well:

Stephen Orbanek, a Fox Business School spokesman, said it plans to offer the VR course every spring semester, as long as there’s demand. The university is also looking into expanding its VR offerings, with an eye toward creating courses in its departments of Strategic Management, Human Resources Management, and Legal Studies.

A March 2020 article on the project from the Fox School of Business website provides more details on the first offering of the course:

On March 19, [professor Bora Ozkan] will begin teaching Fintech, Blockchain and Digital Disruption in the virtual reality (VR) format as part of the Fox Online MBA program. The seven-week accelerated course is believed to be one of the first MBA-level courses to be offered in a VR format anywhere in the United States. The 20 students enrolled in the course can take it anywhere in the world. All they need is the Oculus VR headset that they received in the mail after signing up for the course.

Once they put the headset on is when things get interesting.

The course takes place in two VR classrooms; one mirrors a traditional auditorium-style lecture hall while the other is in an outside park. The details are meticulous. For example, benches in the park actually have iron fittings that are embedded with a Temple T.

Students are visualized with virtual avatars. The instructor, in this case, Ozkan, is live-streamed from a video studio into the center of the virtual lecture hall. Ozkan can see the virtual classroom as he lectures. He’s aware of when a student avatar raises his or her hand. For students, the scene basically mirrors that of an in-classroom lecture hall.

Of course, Temple University will need to keep on top of ever-changing technology to run the course, as a reporter Paige Gross notes:

There are some caveats to the technology, like any other mediums. First, the Oculus VR headsets cost about $300 per set, and Temple currently is in possession of about 20 of them. They’re loaned out to the fintech students and eventually will need to be upgraded. And they’re subject to technical difficulties like any of the technology we lean on right now; I hopped into the class late because the headsets wouldn’t connect to Fox’s Wi-Fi for a bit.

Still, for all the technical hurdles that have to be overcome, the fact that the classes can be offered to students around the world opens up brand new markets for the Fox Business School. (One of the students taking the fintech course was in Vietnam!)

Northern State University Uses Virtual Reality to Prepare Education Students for the Classroom

Northern State University in Aberdeen, South Dakota is using virtual reality to help new teachers learn how to manage a classroom of students!

While the education students are not in a VR headset themselves, they interact with students in a custom social VR platform. The avatars in the virtual classroom are students, with real people behind the avatars, giving education students a chance to practice their skills in a low-risk environment before entering a real-life classroom.

Dr. Anna Schwan shows how the virtual classroom training works

Kelli Volk of KELO TV reports:

A virtual reality tool is helping education students prepare to teach in the classroom.

Northern State University senior Sarah Schafer begins student teaching this fall.

Before she enters the classroom she’s getting an idea of what it’s like to interact with students thanks to a Mursion virtual reality simulation program.

“It’s basically real people behind avatars and my teacher candidates are able to join the classroom as the teacher and they’re able to engage with the avatars,” NSU assistant professor of education Anna Schwan said.

“It was nerve-racking, but that’s exactly what it’s going to be in the classroom, so it was really good to just jump right in and just dive into it with the students,” NSU student Sarah Schafer said.

NSU assistant professor of education Anna Schwan says the simulations are customizable.

“For example, for classroom management, I can choose classrooms that have students who have been identified with having behavior issues or I can even set the behavior to a different level,” Schwan said.

Schwan says it’s safe practice for teaching candidates before they encounter a real classroom.

“I can say all the things and I can tell them this might happen, but when you’re dealing with human beings you can’t prepare for everything, so this helps them practice it a little bit without having the constraints of a full classroom where somebody needs you right now and this is happening and you’re trying to figure everything out,” Schwan said.

“It’s like a stepping stone between what you learn in a textbook and what goes on in the classroom,” Schafer said.

You can also watch a second video about the program here.

An October 2020 news article from Northern State University about the project says:

The Mursion Virtual Reality Simulation offers an innovative approach for teacher candidates to acquire and practice new skills, said NSU Assistant Professor of Education Dr. Anna Schwan. Schwan brought the technology to Northern after trying it out at a conference in Maryland.

“As a former secondary classroom teacher, I would have given anything to be able to practice before I stepped into the classroom,” Schwan explained. “I knew right then that I had to do whatever I could to offer this simulation technology to our students at Northern State University. We are the teaching university in the area; it’s only right that we give our students everything we can think of to help them be successful as teachers.”

To help implement the technology, Schwan wrote and received the NSU Extended Realities Grant. Now, teacher candidates in her Classroom Management Course are trying out the Mursion Virtual Reality Simulation, which allows them to enter a world where students are virtual (avatars) but the teaching is real. They can practice privately or in group settings, teaching avatars ranging from elementary through high school age. 

The software used is called Mursion. Here’s a one-minute promtional video of how it works in an education setting:

In addition to teacher training, Mursion also offers solutions in workplace learning (diversity training, customer service, sales, etc.), healthcare training, and other areas.