Fulton High School offers innovative virtual reality class

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KNOXVILLE (WATE) – Fulton High School is one of few schools to have an actual “virtual reality” course, which is a lot more than entertainment.

Inside the bricks and mortar classroom, students are busy creating a virtual version of their campus. It’s a work in progress, but the walls and hallways are starting to take shape. The goal is to build a virtual school for new students to help them learn their way around before ever stepping foot on the real campus.

Senior Nancy Gonzalez wanted to join the class to learn something new and help other students, who she says, “will be getting to know where the gym is, library, their own classrooms.”

Fulton’s graphic design Instructor Sandra Campbell says virtual reality is not part of her core standards at the school. She decided to offer it because of the unlimited applications in the future, and its impact on problem solving skills.

“It’s expanding and going out in all different directions, “Campbell said. “Directions we don’t even have a clue yet what they’re going to do.”

Campbell took a VR workshop with Dr. Jason Beach of Tennessee Tech University. Thanks to a grant he was awarded, her classroom was outfitted with the tools to help develop their own VR program.

Dr. Beach says the impact on learning is far-reaching.

“They’re given the opportunity to tackle a problem and really see it through in a virtual setting and what they’re learning is skills that will help them in the future, especially in future careers where virtual reality’s going to take hold,” he said.

“I’ve always wanted to be a game designer, so I actually got excited when they said we were going to be working with making games and VR,” said senior James Rudd.

Fellow senior Hunter Barber says the math skills he’s learning will help in his future career as a dentist.

“I saw the potential here to learn, so I took it,” he said.

Students were surprised to learn they would have to step away from the computer to use the old fashioned method of measuring to make sure the virtual high school is true to scale. To one day view the virtual world of Fulton, you’d need a special headset with goggles and a gaming computer.

I checked out the Occulus Rift program in the virtual reality class, which features amazingly realistic programs including an up close encounter with an angry dinosaur. I literally screamed and took several steps back, forgetting for a moment I was in a classroom, not in a dungeon being attacked.

The class isn’t just preparing students for a career in the gaming industry. When you think about it, virtual reality would help a variety of businesses market what they sell.

Perhaps one day in the future, with technology getting cheaper, these gaming systems will be in the homes of millions of people.

The Occulus Rift setup can require a lot of computing horsepower – a different computer especially designed to carry complicated games, but you can get a feel for this technology through some less expensive viewing devices, one made by ViewMaster, that works with your smartphone.

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