Virtual reality brings battle to life

By Mia Dexter

Students stood around the room, spinning in circles and bobbing their heads like they were puppies chasing their tails.

In Sarah Carlson’s ninth grade U.S. history class, students were given the opportunity to use virtual reality headsets to explore the Gettysburg battle grounds. These headsets are similar to the ones seen on TV but a little bit cheaper.

When using them, students would insert a phone, or in this case, a fifth generation iPod, into the headset, open the Google Expeditions app and wait for teacher instruction. What the students saw was all controlled through an iPad by the teacher. One minute the students were standing in the Soldier’s National Cemetery, the next they were standing on the battlegrounds of Gettysburg. The instructor would talk through the sites, answering any questions that students had along the way. It was a very unique experience that many students wouldn’t pass up an opportunity to do again.

But the system wasn’t without some doubters. When students first walked into the room and saw what they were doing for that day, some questioned the whether the payoff was worth the investment with questions such as, “The schools can afford to buy virtual reality headsets but not new strings for our cellos?” There were also complaints from students throughout the day about headaches that were caused by the headsets. Some students were even hesitant to use it out of the fear of motion sickness.

But doubters aside, predominantly, the students enjoyed and learned from their experience. Natalie Huffman, who is in Carlson’s fifth hour, said, “It was fun, but I feel like I didn’t get anything out of it. No one else probably did either because it was distracting.” Another 5th hour student, Alyssa Joyce, said, “I liked it overall because we got to experience what it was like being at the places where the battles were fought, but it was also kind of underwhelming. The equipment we were using could have been higher quality.”

Though there were some minor downsides to it, students had a lot of fun. It was something that they don’t get to do every day, and it gave them a break from taking notes and listening to lectures from their teachers. Huffman said, “It was better than reading a packet, and it’s good to mix it up every once in awhile.”

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