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November 20, 2003

Virtual reality to assist in education

From: Columbus This Week Newspapers, OH - Nov 20, 2003

ThisWeek Staff Writer

The Ohio School for the Deaf (OSD) and Huy Elementary School are among seven Ohio schools sharing a $1.35-million grant to immerse hearing-impaired students in a three-dimensional world.

The VREAL (Virtual Reality Education for Assisted Living) grant, from the U.S. Department of Education, is paying for student and teacher computer stations, a video camera and a viewing/video-conferencing station.

The equipment also includes a headset that allows students to look around within the virtual world, to learn academic and life lessons.

The other five schools in the Ohio program are located in Canton, Cleveland, Findlay, Mansfield and Zanesville.

At a symposium last Thursday and Friday, educators from the seven schools learned how to use the equipment.

Students can walk through 51 scenarios, which cover lessons in language arts, math, science, living skills and test taking.

One scenario teachers practiced on Friday involved bar charts and graphs. Students enter a virtual barn, where cows have all produced varying amounts of milk.

"Walking" from cow to cow, students view charts and see the levels of milk in the containers. A farmer asks them to compare the amounts of milk using the graphs.

Another scenario walks students into a planetarium to study the solar system and outer space. Yet another teaches them safety skills as they walk through a town.

OSD Superintendent Ed Corbett said that the technology will help his students learn in ways that traditional methods cannot.

Through an interpreter, he said research shows people process visual information 60,000 times faster than they do the printed word.

Visual aids especially help deaf students, who use all of their remaining senses to learn, he said.

Corbett also said the system will immerse his students in a wider world.

"Columbus can talk to Cleveland and the kids can sign back and forth," he said.

Twenty OSD students, who are learning at the fourth-grade level, will use the VREAL system.

At Huy, a Columbus public school, seven fourth-graders will benefit.

John Crerand, supervisor of the Columbus Hearing Impaired Program, said his students are performing almost at grade level.

"We expect this program to enhance that," he said.

"This has such visual appeal," he added. "This is a marriage of skills they already have and technology that will broaden them."

The VREAL technology being used was developed by Veridian, now a part of General Dynamics, for use in military simulations. Four years ago, Veridian adapted the technology to improve academic achievement in an Orlando, Fla., school.

The simulations were modified somewhat to meet Ohio standards, said Bob Edge, General Dynamics project manager.

Five programs nationwide used VREAL last year, he said, and assessments show that their students did better in the classroom and with their respective state tests.

Under the federal No Child Left Behind Act, scores posted by hearing-impaired students on proficiency tests are counted the same as for students with no disabilities.

Tammy Ridout, a spokesperson for the Ohio Department of Education, said she believes the program will help Ohio students improve as well.

"This is another way to help all students learn," she said.

Copyright © 2003, ThisWeek Community Newspapers.