Why We Support VR Programs In Schools

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In December 2014, VRLA was launched not by someone with decades of experience in the tech industry, but by Cosmo Scharf, a (then-sophomore) student at USC’s School of Cinematic Arts.

A little over a year later, VRLA is sponsored by companies as large as Samsung, Nvidia, and Google Cardboard, and well-attended by exhibitors and consumers alike. Hundreds of people flocked to VRLA’s 2015 Summer Expo, standing in line, according to co-founder Adam Levin, in 100 degree heat.

But Scharf isn’t the only example of this: young people have engaged with technology since the beginnings of modern computers. When Bill Gates was still a high school student in Seattle, he hacked into a computer at Computer Center Corporation (abbreviated to “C Cubed”) to use the computer for free instead of paying the hourly fee. Today, thanks to the technological advancements by people like Gates, computers are much more affordable, and students no longer need to pay by the hour to painstakingly test code. Many colleges and universities have on-site computer labs, and with more and more work being performed via the Internet, a netbook is a viable option for many.

In other words, while young people have always been attracted to technological advancements that can make their lives simpler, today’s students live in an era where this technology can be accessed much more easily than it used to be.

Widespread student interest in VR makes sense: it has captured consumer attention as a new way to watch movies or play video games (both of which are activities college students are known fans of). However, VR isn’t only entertainment--it is also becoming increasingly more interwoven with the academic lives of young people. For those in college, VR is being adopted as an educational tool in a wide range of areas. Students at the University of Minnesota’s College of Design use VR to see their designs “in-person” without wasting resources, while college football teams use the technology to practice plays before they occur on the field.

This revolution is also important for the growing number of student developers. As young people push the limits of digital arts, VR seems like the next logical step for not only engineers, but artists. Thanks to coverage of companies like Oculus, VR is becoming more widely-known to consumers, and is reaching a point where young people can learn to develop with it. No longer is VR a niche area of research occupied only by engineers and computer scientists: many colleges and universities have programs in digital technologies for undergraduates, and some even have programs or student organizations directly tied to VR research, such as the MxR Lab at USC’s Institute for Creative Technologies.

In fact, this past spring, a class at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign had students create their own virtual reality “worlds.” Professor Steven M. LaValle, having returned to campus after serving as head scientist at Oculus, led the class. Over the course of the class, students created 33 projects for the Oculus, many of which were game-related. According to LaValle, the virtual reality course is popular among students, and the Fall 2015 section filled to capacity within an hour. The class, whose syllabus is available to view on the course website, focuses on many practical aspects of VR development, including human perception and ways to avoid causing motion sickness.

Young people are growing up with VR, and many more will be born into a world where VR technology is commonplace not only in entertainment, but in many other disciplines, as well. It only makes sense that many people raised in a time of great excitement will focus their energy on these technologies, and consumers can look forward to a world where the amount of available VR content will only increase as the number of students does.

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