VR Biology Lab Immersive Experience Boosts Student Engagement

Web3/Ed3 and cutting-edge XR immersive technologies are showing how students who participate in Virtual Reality (VR) immersive labs have dramatically higher lab grades and better engagement than their peers who take conventional lab courses. 

One example of this is the joint venture between Arizona State University (ASU) and Dreamscape Immersive, an avatar-based VR company led by DreamWorks Motion Pictures co-founder Walter Parkes. The resulting startup, Dreamscape Learn (DSL), took on developing immersive learning experiences in the form of both VR-enabled biology courseware and a platform for instructor-led experiences that allow faculty to conduct class from any imaginable location relevant to their class’ area of study.

It all began in the spring of 2022 when ASU conducted the first-of-its-kind study where the researchers investigated the application of VR as a narrative storytelling tool to enrich undergraduate biological science curriculum. According to the researchers, the preliminary findings [ … ] marked a pivotal point in the pedagogical structure of undergraduate introductory biological science courses at ASU.

“When I first experienced this technology, I immediately knew it could power a whole new way of teaching,” said Michael Crow, President of ASU. “It allows us to place students in situations and roles never before possible. When students are captivated by these environments, we can send them on academic missions that are authentic, rigorous, and emotionally compelling.”   

The VR startup, Dreamscape, was co-founded by Walter Parkes, the former Head of DreamWorks Animation and ASU. The quality of the immersive learning experience is like a cinematic movie, adding elements that makes the experience engaging, dynamic, and sensory-rich. When ASU biology students experienced Biology in the Alien Zoo they were virtually sent to a variety of missions through which they encountered and solved complex life-science problems in the Alien Zoo.

The Alien Zoo is a virtual environment conceived by Walter Parkes and Steven Spielberg as a movie concept. Including elements of that magic only Spielberg can create but now turned into a bio lab, students become scientists from day one. “Unlike traditional biology labs, the Dreamscape curriculum empowers students to become scientists from day one, collaborating as a team to learn the skills needed to solve novel problems,” said Michael Angilletta, Biologist and ASU Associate Dean of Learning Innovation.

“We’re seeing students think far more quantitatively than is typical for introductory biology, because they’re motivated by the scientific mission established through the VR experience. And it’s not all about VR. For every 15 minutes of VR, the students participate in three hours of work outside of VR,” he says. Students in Dreamscape Learn labs are 1.7 times as likely to receive an A than students in traditional lab experience, with a median grade of 96 percent, according to Angilletta.

With just 20 percent of high school graduates prepared for college-level coursework in STEM majors, it is paramount to create attractive, engaging, and motivating lab courses to help students succeed in their careers and be prepared for real-life workforce. VR is, indeed, the future of teaching and learning in the 21st century, aiming to eliminate student learning gaps.

For other articles on other labs, VR, see:

Photonics Lab Boosts Quantum Education Opportunities

Future of Higher Education: Adoption of Virtual Reality

Applying the Equity Lens to AR/VR in Higher Education

Virtual Reality: Trends in Higher Ed for 2023 and Beyond

How Universities Are Enhancing Veterinary Education Utilizing VR