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VR ‘Redefining’ How We Design

SAMR: REDEFINITION. Image courtesy of Christina Moore 2017.

In recent years virtual reality (VR) technologies have gained popularity for enhancement of a myriad of industries and experiences. It’s hard to dispute VR has the potential to transform. It’s exciting to consider exploring these technologies for the purpose of education, but before putting VR into practice in the classroom, it’s important to apply the study of theory to VR potential. The SAMR model (substitution, augmentation, modification, and redefinition) is a great way to apply rather basic theory to VR tech. Although it’s possible VR practitioners and learners can traverse SAMR, based on how VR is used, “redefinition” may be the most impactful way to demonstrate use of these technologies for learning. Redefinition, in regards to SAMR, refers to the ability for technology to “create tasks and ways of learning that were previously inconceivable.” (Technology Is Learning 2014)

From the perspective of a CAD and Interior Design instructor, at a career and technical college, the use of VR for architecture and design is exciting to consider in terms of redefining methods of teaching and learning. Consider students who are studying the histories of design, art, and architecture. The typical way we experience these courses and instruction is to explain history through text and pictorial representation. Imagine being able to virtually walk through a setting relevant to the study of history. This is particularly meaningful for design and art instruction where many times the experience and feeling of such places can not be effectively demonstrated. For example, Mies Van Der Rohe’s Core House is available online as a virtual study. When one applies VR goggles to this it’s possible to engage in the feeling and the experience of the physical space. This redefines how we learn about history by immersion in space rather than mere dictation of what it is like. In effect, students can determine what they discovered through the VR experiences and compare that to historical contexts to make conclusions. The ultimate goal of which, would be to apply their historical experience to actual practice in the design of their own spaces.

Perhaps even more exciting than virtually walking through history, is the ability to shape unique spaces with the use of VR. It’s already possible to model a building in VR, assign materials, and design the furniture and flow of the space. More importantly, the result of VR designs can be experienced in VR by the end users and the designers together, creating greater empathy and connections between them.

Most designers begin to learn how to design by 2D representation on paper and in 3D software. At the same time, designers learn about the dimensions of things, as well as codes, and anthropometrics. Things like standard counter heights, doorways, chairs, tables, ADA requirements, etc. Mostly these things are a given, but when all of the elements are put together, the space transforms into it’s own functional or dysfunctional place. In 2D and 3D softwares, one can only guess through experience and the “mind’s eye” what it would be like to experience the space. However, with VR one can simply assess the space while they are creating it. Rather than critiquing the space post design and planning. Dysfunctional designs and proportions become readily apparent immediately in the VR process. Everything is formatively assessed on the fly, versus a giant summative assessment in the form of a design presentation including plans, diagrams, renderings, etc. The whole design process is flipped, redefining it. Rather than creating plans and sketches first, designers create the space in VR and produce plans last when the space is mutually satisfactory for everyone involved.

Like many new technologies, it may take a while to take hold and become a new standard way of doing and being. For educators this is painfully true when it comes to budget allocation and accessibility for students. Because VR technology combines both hardware and software for use, the cost to implement and upkeep is greater than simply updating the software every year. Other concerns from accessibility standpoint would be students who suffer from motion sickness because of the visual interface, or physical disabilities, or fatigue from prolonged operation of VR devices. The final determining factor of this technology becoming more commonplace may be the willingness of the industry and employers to adopt it. Because of these things, it may be a challenge for VR to take off. However, I remain optimistic because of the ability to redefine the design process and experience.

To learn more about SAMR, check out these UC Denver grad student's blog posts:
The SAMR Model at the Substitution Level Christina Moore Feb. 7th 2017
SAMR what? Alicia Newton, Feb. 7th 2017
Using the SAMR Model at the Modification Level. Allison Sandler Jan. 30th 2017

VR goggles combined with hand-held controllers offers architects "a whole new way of designing" (May, 2016)


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