The Prospects for VR/AR in Geographic Education and Research
By Thomas Augeri
As many people have already surmised, the future appears bright for the virtual and augmented reality industries. The progress being made in those industries is so rapid that we are likely to see them in everyday use and distribution within the next few years. What you are probably unaware of is how the development of these new technologies will affect the studies of geography and cartography. Yet, the possibilities for change are ever expanding.
Although virtual reality will play a part in the geography field, it is augmented reality development and integration that will be the major catalyst for geographic research. Augmented reality based HMDs are already being used in varying ways in automotive, gaming, military, tourism and educational virtual and augmented reality applications. The ability to encourage increasing investments from some big tech companies will be an important factor. The implementation of mobile augmented reality will help this market to continue to expand exponentially.(1) (2)
A major contribution that geography based VR and AR technology will contribute will be in the development and advancement of demographic and social science research. Already working online virtual worlds are of great significance to social science research, but are somewhat lacking. An explanation for this lack of rigor is that users today are not interacting in the virtual worlds the way they act in real daily life, communicating with each other in familiar environments and interacting with natural phenomena under the constraints of the human land relationship. It has been suggested that creating a real geographic scenario based virtual social environment would help solve this problem. The goal is to raise the current abilities of virtual worlds in the study of social issues by promoting and encouraging virtual geographic environments that are constructed with actual scenarios in the real world.(3)
These developments with VR and AR in geography and social science will manifest themselves in modern education. As with all classroom innovations intended to improve geographic education, the adoption of virtual reality poses issues for consideration, prior to endorsing its use. Of these, effectiveness, implementation, and safe use need to be addressed. What must be addressed are the potential improvements and current shortcomings of virtual worlds for serious social research. Then, it can be explained how true geographic scenarios can help create a virtual social environment by showing actual geographic data, including:
1) The time dimension, in terms of data acquisition and organization;
2) Dynamic or real time natural phenomena and processes for scenario simulation and expression;
3) Shared hot spots of social phenomena for researchers from multidisciplinary performing collaborative research;
4) Shared spaces that enhance participants' interaction through a mix of virtual and reality.(3)
Usually, in education, knowledge of geography and in person experiences provided by field trips taken to places of particular interest serves both the students and teachers well. Like with the implementation of GIS, GPS, remote sensing, or Internet software products in the classroom, geographic education is tasked with familiarizing itself with VR for teaching purposes. This type of technology stands out because it attempts to psychologically and physically envelop its user in the virtual environment. These implementations allow for greater chances for gaining knowledge and intelligence. However, because of the differing levels of sensory interaction with the user, it forces academia at large to carefully examine using it.(4)
In conclusion, the future for VR and especially AR in the geography field is very bright. Whether it is in the research or educational area, the rapid influx of new VR and AR technology will impact how geography, demographics, and social science are taught and researched in a significant way. The future of geographic studies will be driven by new technology, and the time to jump on the VR/AR bandwagon is now.
Thomas Augeri is an undergraduate geography student at the University of Alabama.