This article originally appeared in the Burlington County Times.
From the scene of a crime to an operating table in a hospital, students at Burlington County Institute of Technology are among the first in New Jersey testing out virtual and augmented reality in their specializations.
MEDFORD — In seconds, students are being transported from a classroom to the scene of a crime on a Thursday afternoon, just by putting on a headset. But no one has moved more than a foot away from where they started out.
This school year, developments in virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) have made it possible to bring the software into classrooms. At Burlington County Institute of Technology, the Manasquan-based Envision Innovative Solutions is piloting educational VR and AR on the Medford and Westampton campuses.
In its first few weeks of use, the VR and AR software have proven to be useful across a variety of specializations, such as automotive technology, welding, allied health and sports medicine, teachers said.
As soon as students put on a virtual reality headset in their criminal justice class Thursday, they stepped into a virtual crime scene, which even has specific options like a suburban home at night, a city alley during the day, or vice versa. The scenario also creates physical sensations, like the feeling of chalk rubbing the ground while a student traces around a dead body, and snapping pictures of the evidence before bagging it.
“Although we have only had our virtual reality system a short time, my students integrated into using it very quickly,” said Matt Azzarone, a law and public safety teacher at the Westampton campus. “In criminal justice, it has allowed us to expose our students to a variety of simulated crime scenes quickly and with very real applications of evidence collection and processing.”
Superintendent Christopher Nagy said the technology already feels natural for students, as it bears some similarities to video games.
“Why not allow students to feel at home at school?” he said. “Both the students and the teachers benefit and learn from one another.”
Students in the school’s health-related programs have the ability to explore the human body at various levels to learn anatomy and physiology interactively on an Anatomage table.
During a class Thursday, senior Chadrick Wisniewski was able to dissect a brain and show the inside of it with just a swipe, and take the rest of the class through a detailed top-to-bottom scan of a human body’s anatomy. They could even go inside organs. The virtual bodies are based on real ones, belonging to people who chose to donate their bodies for scientific research.
“It’s like ‘The Magic School Bus,’” one student quipped as Chadrick and fellow senior Kayla Parker navigated through the walls of a uterus.
“It helps a lot,” Chadrick said. “When you’re feeling around, for instance, if you wanted to look at the MCL in the knee, just feeling it and looking at it in person, you don’t really know exactly where it’s at. This shows you exactly where it is, and you can’t mistake that,” Chadrick said.
Senior Kayla Carbone, who’s in the law and public safety program, said the ability to explore a crime scene is fascinating. Though the school has a crime scene room with a mock scenario set up, she said that somehow, the simulation from the VR headset feels more true-to-life.
“When you’re in the VR, it feels like you’re actually in the scene,” she said. “Reading it in a book is one thing, but doing it in real life is another.”