Virtual Reality, help or hindrance? A case study of two undergraduate student-generated chemistry lessons

Stephen George-Williams, Reyne Pullen, Siegbert Schmid


Virtual Reality (VR) has become a much more common household commodity thanks to the proliferation of more affordable VR devices. While its use in the gaming industry is becoming widespread, its application in pedagogical environments has only just started, particularly in chemistry. As such, whether VR will aid or hinder the teaching and learning of chemistry is currently a topic of research and debate. This project sought to generate VR materials designed to support students learning undergraduate chemistry, with the specific topics decided by undergraduate student researchers. This work was undertaken in the X-reality (i.e. VR and other forms of augmented realities) laboratories at the The University of Sydney. Preliminary materials were generated, and pilot tested with student volunteers who undertook pre- and post-questionnaires followed by an exit interview. The results of these trials showed that the VR experience did enhance student engagement and understanding, but only for more complex examples. The trial volunteers felt that ball-and-stick models were adequate for simple molecular representations. Nausea was noted as a significant issue alongside concerns around the inadequate response of the hand-held controls. This same issue made movement throughout the virtual environment difficult for several students. Lastly, the student researchers found generating the VR lessons to be challenging, noting a steep learning curve with regards to creating the environments.

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