Published:21 May 2020

Three Rockhampton primary school students recently engaged in a Virtual Reality Classroom event led by CQUniversity's School of Engineering and Technology. (Top) The VR classroom (Bottom L-R) Students Sam Burton, Riley Bloomfield and Brandon Hayes.

Three Rockhampton primary school children went to school “virtually” this week thanks to a unique CQUniversity-coordinated VR classroom experience that could revolutionise distance education.

Dr Linda Pfeiffer, Senior Lecturer, Australia Pacific LNG STEM Research Central Project Lead said the students engaged in an immersive 3D audio-visual experience – without ever leaving their homes.

“What was so unique about this discussion was that the three students were based in three different houses in Rockhampton and were joined in a virtual classroom by CQUni’s School of Engineering and Technology Deputy Dean for Research Professor Steve Moore in Rockhampton and Associate Professor Hamish MacDougall in Sydney and US-based VR ‘wizard’ Probable.Prime, who was supporting the study from Seattle (which was a Monday for him),” Dr Pfeiffer said.

“The group were in the one virtual space in a fully immersive way – the kids were playing, talking, shaking hands and creating.

“We had a 3D heart, planet earth, Sputnik and Space Shuttle visit. The kids even passed around a bottle of water and had a drink all from different physical locations.

“What struck me as so amazing was how quickly the children could manipulate the virtual world. These kids are 8 to 12 years old! They jumped in and were showing us oldies how to manoeuvre and manipulate.”

The students said they loved the experience.

Riley Bloomfield said: “It was cool. I liked how I could talk to everyone like it was real not just a chat box. It was like my friends were actually there and I learn with them.”

Sam Burton said: “The best thing about it is that it was like I was with other people and I could talk and interact.”

Brandon Hayes said: “It was very fun and I’d love to do it again. It was cool to see people from other places, like around the world.”

Prof Moore said CQUni’s School of Engineering and Technology, in collaboration with Associate Professor Hamish MacDougall at the University of Sydney, have been working on the use of VR as the future of distance education.

“In addition to this virtual classroom project for primary school pupils, we have been developing virtual laboratory scenarios for our Engineeering students at CQUni,” Prof Moore said.

“With the jump to fully online delivery of our Engineering and IT courses the question of how to provide the required practical ‘hands-on’ laboratory experience remains and we feel that VR has the potential to solve this issue.

“For example, one of our final year students has developed a VR representation of an electronic breadboard that is connected remotely to an actual breadboard in one of our campus laboratories. Circuits built in the VR world can be reproduced in the laboratory and the real-time results viewed in the virtual lab.”