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WHAT MAKES VIRTUAL REALITY SOPHISTICATED?

ICT promote collaboration and communication through various activities involving the collection, processing, storage and representation of data and information. Their technological characteristics and pedagogical features render them as powerful and supporting tools in education. Digital learning environments have been used since the 1970s mainly in the mainstream education.

Nevertheless, it is only recently that their contribution in the area of special educational needs has been acknowledged, as there is an increased interest in all aspects inclusion of individuals with learning disabilities, such as dyslexia. Providing safe and controlled environments, motivation, high level of interactivity, immediate feedback, as well as improvement of visual and memory skills, ICT support the effective learning of these individuals. Their implementations to the assessment and intervention process (general strategic techniques, specific skills training, multisensory approaches) are significant in terms of an effective education and learning experience.

Moreover, ICT can provide support not only to the individuals with dyslexia, but also their families and educators by increasing their knowledge and understanding of the numerous challenges those individuals face in their everyday life.

Since Virtual Reality (VR) technologies first surfaced in the 1960s, their unique characteristics differentiated them from other information technologies, making them powerful educational tools.

In the last fifteen years there have been some remarkable technological and scientific advances in this area, making VR from a sophisticated toy and powerful educational mean, to a valuable assessment and intervention tool. Features such as 3D dynamic yet controllable environments, stimuli control, and behavioral documentation and quantification are important assets of VR technology and its clinical applications (assessment, intervention, and training). The wide repertoire of such clinical applications ranges from specialized simulations for pain management to virtual environments for populations with cognitive impairments. VR features along with the current scientific recognition of the need for real life representative clinical tools, offer a unique combination of innovative and effective human/patient-centered applications.

Traditional approaches, e.g. typical paper-and-pencil diagnostic methods have been reported to have a limited ecological validity, as this type of tests has a constricted everyday relevance. After all, identifying capabilities and weaknesses, as well as coping and functioning in real world tasks is what makes a clinical assessment complete and an intervention successful. Moreover, and from a different aspect, for non-dyslexic individuals, imagining or trying to understand what these difficulties are and how they affect, both cognitively and psychologically, dyslexics is a rather demanding task. VR technologies can have a significant positive impact in helping those who engage with these individuals (e.g., parents, educators, therapists, clinicians) to experience firsthand the challenges dyslexics face inside and outside of an academic context. Thus, as relevant studies report, such applications have the unique ability to effectively increase knowledge and raise awareness of the virtual explorers.

Besides the potentials of VR applications as powerful clinical and awareness tools, it is essential to identify and understand those technological features that are the basis for the aforementioned rational. Our study, as well as other relevant researches in the field of clinical virtual applications (assessment and neurorehabilitation), suggests that these unique technological characteristics of VR include: immersion, presence, interaction, transduction and conceptual change. Thus, it is that exact and real life presentations that take place in the dynamic, multisensory, controlled and safe virtual environments that evidently provide successful interaction and performance recording in several clinical and broader domains. It is worth mentioning, that only two of the included studies used immersive systems. The other five applications used desktop systems with the participants being able to navigate and interact in the 3D virtual environments.

In the case of these applications, and as Rizzo and colleagues state, although they are less immersive, nevertheless they are still considered to be virtual reality simulations and contribute to the sense of presence.

Finally, taking into consideration the technological advances and the decrease in systems cost, for the implementation of virtual environments in both adult and child population with dyslexia. With the prospect of positive cost-effective outcomes, such studies could provide empirical and strong evidence of the beneficial use of virtual environments, as valuable and powerful clinical tools for screening, assessment, individual intervention programming and awareness means for the broader community.

 

Article by: Busayo Tomoh

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