Taking armchair travel to new heights

Victoria Business School researcher Dr Christian Schott is experimenting with technology that enables students to travel without leaving the comforts of home.

Dr Christian Schott (left), researcher and senior tourism lecturer in the School of Management

For his sustainable tourism course Dr Schott, a senior lecturer in the School of Management, has been working with developer Alan Proctor-Thomson to create a virtual field trip to a remote island in Fiji.

By wearing an Oculus Rift – a virtual reality headset – and using a joystick, students are able to explore the island as if they were actually there.

"I was trying to find a way of telling the story of a developing country, their pressures and opportunities and challenges to our students, without the expense of travelling abroad, and writing a book chapter or case studies seemed pretty boring" says Dr Schott.

Dr Schott, who has been working on this project since 2011, initially designed the virtual field trip as a screen version with a keyboard to control movement but has now switched to experimenting with the latest digital technology.

The Oculus Rift immersion experience

The Oculus Rift provides the students with full immersion in the island and allows them to see in all directions by simply moving their head.

Sound such as waves lapping the shore and birds singing, along with detailed visuals, including grass waving in the breeze and lifelike buildings, reiterate the authenticity of the experience.

"People need to feel what they’re learning about is real," says Dr Schott.

"One of the wonderful things about this technology is being able to help learners that don’t learn well from books. It also encourages students to act as researchers and take ownership of their own learning, while I act as the facilitator."

Dr Schott has been trialling the Oculus Rift version of the virtual field trip with students and colleagues.

"Students on the whole are quite excited about it. Some get quite passionate about wanting to know everything."

As with any new technology, there are a few teething problems.

"Many people who are introduced to the Oculus Rift experience a kind of motion sickness, which detracts from the experience," he says.

"The technology also requires a computer with high graphics capability."

Despite its challenges, Dr Schott feels the technology has huge potential in the field of education.

"Part of the beauty of it is that it can be used at any time and in any place. And it allows people to really embrace the learning style that works for them."