The 88th Annual Meeting of the American Association of Physical Anthropologists (2019)

Virtual Reality Evolutionary Anatomy Lab (VREAL): Virtual lab spaces for instruction and collaboration


1Anthropology, Wellesley College, 2Knapp Center, Wellesley College

March 30, 2019 , CC Ballroom BC Add to calendar

Increasing quality and decreasing costs have made virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) technologies more accessible for teaching and research. Coupled with an increasing investment in open-access, primary-data resources, these advances have created an opportunity to systematically examine the efficacy of VR and AR learning applications in the classroom. Largely supported by undergraduate work, we developed a VR application intended to supplement in-class instruction with a fully-immersive, VR evolutionary anatomy lab (VREAL). During the 2017-2018 academic year, this application was piloted in classes aimed at instruction in human osteology and human evolution with the goal of examining the qualitative and quantitative effectiveness of the VR intervention. In both of these classes, student access to primary materials (human skeletal teaching collections, fossil cast collections) is limited by in-class time and/or material accessibility. VREAL enhanced access to materials through the use of high-resolution scans of digital material, in addition to offering them augmented abilities to manipulate these materials in an immersive environment (e.g. size modification, superimposition). Qualitative assessment suggested students found VR-applications to be highly-engaging and enhancing to their overall enthusiasm for fossil-based work. Quantitative assessments, while limited in our pilot, also suggest to a positive learning effect. These results are encouraging and point toward future areas of development and testing for VR-based educational resources in evolutionary anthropological contexts. This work also brings out some of the challenges of such applications and suggestions for best practices, including emphasizing user experience and shared or collaborative learning goals.