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Oculus: Escape Reality (and learn, too)

Ivy Chan '24

Oct 14, 2022

Beginning this fall term, Lenfest Library will open a virtual reality (VR) lab available to all community members. Students will have access to educational apps and immersive travel experiences at an elevated level.

Behind the opening of the VR lab is Nicole Brown, library assistant and Tech Integration Specialist at Mercersburg Academy. Brown explains the impulses that led to the establishment of the space. “I attended the International Society of Tech Educators conference last year and learned a lot about how schools, libraries, and businesses are incorporating virtual reality into their institutions. I've been reading a lot about how virtual reality is being used in all sorts of creative ways- doctors are using it to treat depression and chronic pain, artists are using it to create sculptures which they then 3D print, the military is using it to train pilots- there are so many innovative ways that the technology can be used.” Brown took on the project as a natural fit within the parameters of her job description.

The library has been doing a "soft" rollout of the facility. “We introduced it to students for the first time on Community Reading Day. Next week we will announce the appointments of VR lab student proctors who will support other students during evening hours. The goal is to have the technology available to students without disrupting the normal studying routine,” Brown says. For the fall term, the VR lab will be open twice a week during the day, allowing students who have a free period to stop by and use the technology.

Teachers will also have access to the lab for their classes. “There are powerful and immersive videos that cover content ranging from 9/11 to Exploring the Oceans. We have an app called ‘Mondly’ that allows students to practice speaking a language within the context of a practical life situation, such as saying hello to a friend or ordering a meal in a restaurant. There are so many possibilities to incorporate this into content areas. The goal is to continually expand the services that we provide as we move forward,” Brown says.

Brown continues, “The Oculus Quest 2 headsets have incredible graphics. The headsets also have a built-in mic and audio, and the sound quality is excellent. We have headsets so that users who need to block out the ambient sound are able to do so,” she says.

Director of Library Services Alexandra Patterson adds, “I’m so excited to invite the community into the new VR lab! It will be a great resource for teachers and students.” Olivia Wetzel ‘24, says, “It’s so cool that Mercersburg is expanding beyond what a typical library is. I have tried VR before, and it was so fun, so I can’t wait to try it out in the library!” Haris Yahaya ‘24 says, “I’m excited about the VR lab because it is a new opportunity to see things in a different way, and I’m hoping to use it sometime in my school projects such as a science experiment.”

Talia Cutler ‘23, a library intern, has experimented with different equipment and a variety of VR applications. Cutler recommends some cool applications in the VR lab, such as “the World Traveler program, which lets you travel anywhere in the world virtually.” She says, “I would encourage anyone to test it out even if they are not sure if they like VR.”

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