Virtual reality makes plant science fun
A virtual reality program created by the ARC Centre of Excellence in Plant Energy Biology (PEB), based at The University of Western Australia (UWA), takes students on an immersive journey through the cells of plants.
The Virtual Plant Cell (VPC) is currently being trialled with school students at Trinity College, taking the cutting-edge virtual reality technology into the classroom and providing a fun, interactive educational experience for them.
UWA PEB Science Communications Officer Karina Price, who led the project, said this new technology allows for a learning experience inside worlds that cannot be observed in reality, thus resulting in a unique way to engage students in science. “We believe that virtual reality used in this way, and at this scale, in Australian classrooms is unprecedented,” Price said.
Furthermore, by including links to real-world agricultural challenges and highlighting local research endeavours to adapt plants for the future, VPC also helps students understand how science can be applied. Price explained, “Changing the course of global food security starts with educating our own community and through the Virtual Plant Cell we can communicate vital plant research in a way that is really exciting, interesting and easy to understand.”
Price said past challenges with teaching cell biology, particularly due to the microscopic size of cells, can be overcome by using virtual reality technology, which provides a visual, auditory and spatial learning environment. “With Classroom VPC,” she said, “we’re also building science understanding, helping students develop skills and inspiring career aspirations toward the critical areas of agriculture and our future food production.”
Trinity College science teacher Tim Blake said the technology is something he had been waiting to have in the classroom for years, saying it offers “a great advantage for teaching harder concepts” and that it has generated a “phenomenal” amount of excitement amongst students.
“Students have indicated it has made them more interested in learning and it has helped them retain more information because they are engaged and having fun while learning at the same time,” he said.
VPC was announced last week as a Western Australian Premier’s Science Awards finalist in the category of ‘Chevron Science Engagement Initiative of the Year’. The full list of finalists can be viewed here and the winners will be announced at the awards ceremony on 15 August.
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