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The first of its kind in the Oman: VR Lab to turn Physics into a fun subject

While usually overshadowed, home-grown innovations or innovations made by Omanis actually continue to thrive in the country today. These innovations not only put the Omani youth front and centre in helping solve some of the world’s most difficult problems but also showcases their great potential in achieving a more sustainable future.

In alignment with Oman Vision 2040, it became necessary to apply educational curricula and teaching strategies that keep pace with the requirements of the Fourth Industrial Revolution.

The Sultanate of Oman aims to introduce the latest technological developments into educational systems. Such developments can specifically be applied in science subjects as they are considered a rich environment for activating the uses of modern technology in the field of teaching and learning.

Among these technologies is virtual reality in science subjects, which is represented by the emergence of virtual laboratories because of the realistic and tangible experiences that they provide and the possibilities they offer to overcome the problems of practical application in traditional school laboratories. The role of school laboratories has changed in the philosophy of modern laboratories; therefore, the role of the student in laboratory work has transformed from passive to active so that s/he has an active role in the educational process.

Khalsa bint Hamad Al Bahri, a PhD student majoring in the Philosophy of Education in Curricula and Methods of Teaching Science at Sultan Qaboos University, works on introducing the latest technologies in science education. Considering virtual learning is currently the best method for education that provides a decentralized, interactive, integrated environment, Khalsa has designed an immersive virtual laboratory for physics as her PhD research project, and this is the first project of its kind in the Sultanate of Oman.

“The idea of this project was inspired by the employment of immersive virtual reality technology in the fields of vocational training, aviation, engineering and PlayStation games, which use this technology as a primary method of training. This immersive virtual reality technology can be considered as a solution to the difficulties that teachers face in traditional laboratories when preparing experiments, whether physical or methodological,” she explained.

In a study conducted by the researcher, who has recently received intellectual property copyrights for her physics immersive virtual laboratory, she mentioned that teachers face difficulty to implement experiments with the required accuracy due to the class size (number of students). Moreover, it is difficult to conduct experiments that require a high degree of safety (such as high voltage, dealing with dangerous chemicals, etc.) and experiments in which variables need to be controlled (such as sound insulation, the darkness of bacterial or fungal culture rooms, sterilization of tools, temperature, etc.).

In the same study, the researcher surveyed teachers’ opinions about the possibility of using the immersive virtual laboratory as an alternative solution to overcome these difficulties.

The physics lab is a virtual electronic environment based on computer programs designed to simulate real-life reality, and the student can roam inside the lab 360 degrees and conduct practical experiments and practice them in all steps using all his/her senses. The laboratory consists of a headset attached to the head and two controllers held by hands. The Oculus-Quest2 headset was used in the current project due to its appropriate price and ease of programming. Students can use the laboratory anywhere without the need to connect to a computer or the Internet.

The current project is the first of its kind in the Sultanate as it was programmed in the Arabic language adopting immersive virtual reality, which is rarely used in this field of education. The researcher hopes to expand the virtual laboratory to include all classrooms, as well as all science disciplines (physics, chemistry, biology), and she hopes to apply it to students with special needs.

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