Instead of reaching for scalpels, medical school students at Colorado State University’s Clapp Lab reach for virtual reality (VR) headsets, which dangle from the ceiling of the 2,500 square foot facility. Once students don their devices — each of which is connected to a high-powered HP workstation — they begin the day’s “patient examinations.”
Dissecting entire human cadavers in VR allows students to zoom into and explore body parts on a cellular level. “It’s a much more efficient and intuitive way to display and learn from this type of data,” says Tod Clapp, associate professor of biomedical sciences and the director of human anatomy at CSU. In internal surveys, 87% of students who have taken CSU’s distance anatomy class say VR has helped them understand spatial relationships better than traditional two-dimensional resources. Spatial cognition is particularly crucial in medicine, helping doctors understand everything from where a patient’s organs are located to how anatomical structures are connected.
According to Inside Higher Ed, the last five years have seen a “significant increase” in educational institutions using XR — “extended reality,” a term that encompasses both virtual and augmented reality (VR/AR). Studies conducted by Educause, a nonprofit that advances higher education via information technology, suggest that XR promotes engagement, exposes students to new and impactful content, and deepens their interactions with complex concepts.