Have you heard the acronyms VR and AR before? If you’re like us, you might be saying yes, but not really sure what each of those really means—is there even a difference? And then, like us, you might also be wondering whether they have a place in the toolkit for enablers of change. So today we’re exploring VR and AR in extension!
We’ll start with virtual reality or VR. This is an immersive, interactive computer-simulated experience. That means it is like we are in a different world. Usually we need a headset, a handheld controller and sometimes other equipment that allows you to be able to do things in the simulation. There are two types of headset that we use for VR. One is a standalone headset where we do not have to be connected to another device. The second is a PC-based headset, which as the name suggests, connects to a computer via a long cable.
Denise has actually had a go at VR! She went along to a presentation at a learning group in Christchurch. They had been working with VR to develop hospital training scenarios, so when you put on the headset you were transported into a hospital room and you could see things that might need to be done and you could do them in the simulation with the controller. It was pretty amazing to experience!
Of course many of you might also have had experience in VR if you have been to somewhere like Timezone! Again, Denise has done this! She went along with some colleagues and tried a VR game. All the players were hooked up via individual headsets (these were PC-based headsets because they were connected to the computer). The controllers (in the form of guns) were used to hit particular targets. Denise admits to being pretty bad at it!
Augmented reality or AR is slightly different. AR does not take us out of our surroundings but as the name suggests, overlays digital content so that it appears to be part of our environment. For AR we usually do not use a headset but instead, a smartphone or tablet helps to put 3D objects into our surroundings.
We have to admit that the first thing that popped into our heads about AR was the Pokemon craze, where you used your smartphone to find different creatures in the environment! We did not ever get into this, but if you were caught up in that, then you will be quite familiar with AR!
So now that we’ve explained VR and AR, we thought it would be good to explore how these can be used in extension. You might have guessed that training does seem to be the most obvious opportunity for this technology. There are a few reasons for this.
The first is that VR and AR provide greater interactivity with the learning content. Using VR means that learners can do hands-on learning in a structured and interactive way. That is like the work we mentioned earlier, using VR to help train health professionals. If you are interested in more details on this, there is a Masters thesis completed on this topic back in 2011 (Karunasekera, 2011, listed in the resources below), in Christchurch at the University of Canterbury. We thought this was interesting because they did explore the limitations of the technology, so it was not all ‘full steam ahead to a brave new world’!
The second reason is that VR and AR offer higher levels of engagement and participation—so there is greater learning by doing. This in turn can have a positive impact on knowledge uptake and retention, as well as promoting confidence.
A third reason to explore the use of VR and AR is safer learning environments. Denise had the opportunity last year to hear a presentation from Kiwirail who faced exactly this problem. They wanted to be able to train locomotive drivers all across the country but needed access to yards and locomotives. They were finding this more and more of a problem. Again, if you’re interested you can read more background in a short paper by Phillip O’Connell (and the link is in the resources below). But the ongoing hazardous environment they needed to put learners into, meant this was a key part of their reason for starting to explore VR. Kiwirail have put together a cool short video that shows a snippet of what they’ve developed, using VR for training.
Another reason for using VR or AR is improved extension experience. Sometimes concepts can be complex, abstract or difficult to explain. We can all have trouble understanding concepts through explanations alone! AR and VR solutions help make concepts simpler through interactive visualisation and allowing participants to learn by doing.
The fifth and final reason for exploring the use of VR and AR is that we can get better learning outcomes because we are combining a series of things that help make learning more effective—learning by doing, the ability to explore a range of scenarios, and something enjoyable!
Perhaps you are wondering what is happening in this space from an agricultural perspective? There are a few examples out there that we thought were interesting. The first is VR videos, like this one that Meat & Livestock Australia put together to share the story of Australian lamb production. Another VR example is from Oregon State University, who developed a VR soil lab.
In terms of AR, the main use has been adding an extra dimension to publications, signage, or other types of passive content. This adds dynamic content and provides extra information.There is a lovely rural example of this in the Wimmera Mallee in Victoria, where they use AR to highlight astonishing silo artwork on display throughout the region. This technology is starting to move into agriculture and it seems to have real potential to be helpful for extension and enabling change. The final benefit that we will mention is that this technology enables us to collect measurable results. We can easily track how many people watched the videos, saved photos or other actions undertaken, meaning we can monitor our results in real time.
Other options, especially for AR, are in creating awareness or being able to do some flipped learning before an activity. An example of this is the virtual ram created by Think Digital and showcased at a ram sale in 2019. As the creator says we could open up a sales catalogue and the ram appears on our dining room table. We can then explore its size and other characteristics and then make an informed decision about whether we would want to attend the ram sale or not.
You can see why marketers are embracing this type of technology as well. You might be interested in this blog outlining some of the ways in which marketers are using the technology. There are some cool examples like Yorkshire Tea from the UK who’ve used AR to promote their tree planting campaign to different audiences.
We’d like to say a huge thank you to Naser Zamani who is the founder and manager of CreativiTek, as he provided us with the material to be able to put this episode together. CreativiTek is one of Australia’s leading providers of mixed reality and particularly augmented reality services. Naser has a lot of experience in agricultural extension and if you would like to check out the exciting work he is involved with, you will find the link in the show notes.
Well, you have read our thoughts, now we would like to hear yours! Add a comment below and tell us whether you have tried putting VR or AR to work for you. We would love to hear about your experiences and the tips and pitfalls of this technology! We do not want this to be just a one-way conversation—join in by sharing your thoughts and ideas with us!
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Karunasekera, P. (2011). Effectiveness of Virtual Reality Based Immersive Training for Education of Health Professionals: A Systematic Review: Thesis Submitted in Partial Fulfilment of the Requirements for the Degree of Master of Health Sciences in the University of Canterbury (Doctoral dissertation, University of Canterbury). Available online.
O’Connell, P. Improving operational and public safety in shunting operations through active hazard ID. Available online.
For more information on the work being done in health training using VR in Christchurch this short article provides an overview.