Agriculture
Growing Healthier Tomato Plants
Springing forward
Silk’s superpowers
Amphibians
Salamanders and Newts
Toads
Bullfrogs
Animals
Cacophony Acoustics
Chicken Talk
Lives of a Mole Rat
Behavior
Brain cells take a break
Swine flu goes global
Face values
Birds
Emus
Cassowaries
Woodpecker
Chemistry and Materials
Earth from the inside out
Pencil Thin
The Buzz about Caffeine
Computers
It's a Small E-mail World After All
Electronic Paper Turns a Page
Nonstop Robot
Dinosaurs and Fossils
Meet the new dinos
Digging Dinos
The bug that may have killed a dinosaur
E Learning Jamaica
E Learning in Jamaica WIN PRIZES and try our Fun Animated Games
2014 GSAT Results for Jamaican Kids
Results of GSAT are in schools this week
Earth
Life trapped under a glacier
Ancient Heights
Slower Growth, Greater Warmth
Environment
Fungus Hunt
Sea Otters, Kelp, and Killer Whales
Out in the Cold
Finding the Past
Stone Tablet May Solve Maya Mystery
Words of the Distant Past
A Volcano's Deadly Ash
Fish
Angler Fish
Bull Sharks
Seahorses
Food and Nutrition
A Taste for Cheese
Strong Bones for Life
In Search of the Perfect French Fry
GSAT English Rules
Who vs. Whom
Problems with Prepositions
Whoever vs. Whomever
GSAT Exam Preparation Jamaica
The Annual GSAT Scholarships
Ministry of Education Announces 82 GSAT Scholarships for 2010
GSAT Practice Papers | GSAT Mathematics | Maths
GSAT Exams Jamaica Scholarships
42,000 students will sit for the GSAT Exam in two weeks
GSAT Scholarship
Results of GSAT are in schools this week
GSAT Mathematics
How to Slice a Cake Fairly
Secrets of an Ancient Computer
Play for Science
Human Body
Heavy Sleep
A Fix for Injured Knees
Music in the Brain
Invertebrates
Arachnids
Mosquitos
Insects
Mammals
Aardvarks
A Grim Future for Some Killer Whales
Cows
Parents
How children learn
Expert report highlights the importance to parents of reading to children!
Children and Media
Physics
Electric Backpack
Spin, Splat, and Scramble
Black Hole Journey
Plants
The algae invasion
Nature's Alphabet
A Change in Leaf Color
Reptiles
Komodo Dragons
Snapping Turtles
Sea Turtles
Space and Astronomy
An Earthlike Planet
Melting Snow on Mars
Cousin Earth
Technology and Engineering
Reach for the Sky
Crime Lab
Drawing Energy out of Wastewater
The Parts of Speech
What is a Verb?
What is a Noun
Countable and Uncountable Nouns
Transportation
Robots on a Rocky Road
Reach for the Sky
Middle school science adventures
Weather
A Dire Shortage of Water
A Change in Climate
Weekend Weather Really Is Different
Add your Article

A Classroom of the Mind

You’re sitting at your desk. A teacher is writing on the chalkboard. A bus rumbles past the window. Kids are yelling in the playground outside. A paper airplane whizzes overhead. The school principal steps into the room, looks around, and walks out. A book falls off the desk next to you. Suddenly, the teacher hands you a pop quiz.

Don’t panic! You aren’t actually in school. You’re in a “virtual classroom.” Everything you see and hear is coming to you through a computer-operated display that you’re wearing on your head like a pair of very bulky goggles.

Unlike the classroom, the technology is real. It’s an innovative application of virtual reality, a type of technology that uses computer programs to simulate real-world (or even fantasy) situations. Wearing virtual-reality gear, you can find yourself sitting in a classroom, touring a famous museum, wandering across a weird landscape, zooming into space, or playing with a cartoon character. You don’t have to leave your room.

Movie directors and video game producers have been using computers for years to create ever more realistic special effects. Some companies are now building three-dimensional fantasy worlds in which players, linked by computer networks, appear to meet and go on quests together. Virtual-reality gear that delivers images and sounds directly to your eyes and ears makes these fake worlds seem lifelike.

Some psychologists are also getting into the act. They see virtual reality technology as a useful tool for learning more about why people act as they do. It could help psychologists better identify and come up with solutions for behavior problems, for example.

“We’ve spent the last 100 years looking for certain laws in how people interact with the real world,” says clinical psychologist Albert “Skip” Rizzo. “Now, we’ve got a powerful tool that lets us create worlds, control things, and see how people perform. This is a psychologist’s dream.”

Rizzo works in the school of engineering at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles, where he developed the Virtual Classroom and a related program called the Virtual Office.

Virtual classroom

Some kids can’t sit still for long. They have a hard time paying attention to just one thing. They’re easily distracted. They can get very impatient. They hate standing in line or waiting for their turn in a game or activity. They get bored pretty fast. They may also be impulsive—saying the first thing that comes to mind or interrupting someone else who’s talking.

For certain kids, this problem is so severe that doctors have a name for it: attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, or ADHD. Perhaps as many as 1 out of every 20 kids under the age of 18 have characteristics of ADHD. Often, these kids have trouble getting through school and face other difficulties later in life.

Rizzo started developing the Virtual Classroom in 1999. He wanted to see if he could use it as a tool for testing and treating kids who have attention disorders.

Here's what you might see when you're wearing virtual-reality headgear that puts you in a

Here’s what you might see when you’re wearing virtual-reality headgear that puts you in a “cartoon” classroom.

Skip Rizzo

To diagnose ADHD, doctors typically test patients by giving them tasks that require attention. As part of one classic test, you watch letters flashed on a computer screen. Every time you see the letter “A” followed by the letter “X,” you have to press the space bar. If you’re paying close attention, you’ll register all the times this combination occurs. If not, you’ll miss some.

The Virtual Classroom makes these tests more efficient, Rizzo says. In one experiment, he gave a group of kids the classic “A-X” test. Instead of looking at a computer screen in a doctor’s office, though, the kids wore headsets that made it look like they were taking the test in a classroom.

“Basically what we found,” Rizzo says, “is that, in 20 minutes of testing with virtual reality, we replicated a finding that usually requires a couple hours of standard testing with computer screens in the psychologist’s office.”

Realistic features

Encouraged by these results, Rizzo and his colleagues started programming additional features into their Virtual Classroom. Introducing distractions was one of them.

Even though teachers try their best to keep their classrooms quiet and orderly, real life can get pretty chaotic. So, the researchers added people walking around, noises coming from the hallway, paper airplanes flying every which way, and other distractions.

A paper airplane glides through this virtual classroom scene.

A paper airplane glides through this virtual classroom scene.

Skip Rizzo

When Rizzo tested kids with and without ADHD using the more advanced program, he found some interesting patterns. Even without distractions, kids with ADHD performed worse on the “A-X” task than did kids without attention problems. When they had to deal with distractions at the same time, the differences between the two groups were even more striking, Rizzo says.

Because the Virtual Classroom more accurately mimics real life, diagnoses become more reliable than with traditional testing methods, Rizzo says. He thinks his program could reduce the number of kids who take Ritalin and other medications for ADHD because it does a better job of identifying the most serious problems.

The next step will be to move from diagnoses to treatments. Spending time in a carefully controlled Virtual Classroom might help train kids to pay better attention, even when facing the multitude of distractions that confront them every day.

That may be the only way psychology will ever keep pace with modern society, Rizzo says.

Information deluge

“We’re living in an information deluge,” he says. “One person estimated that a Sunday edition of the New York Times contains more information than a person was exposed to in their entire lifetime in the 18th century.” And there’s a lot more around than just the Sunday newspaper.

Kids are growing up in an increasingly high-tech, computer-dominated world. “We’re not going to entice this generation of kids in the classroom or later in job training with old, traditional tools,” Rizzo says. “Their brains are wired for speed. You can complain about that all you want, but this is reality.”

Grownups, too, stand a chance of benefiting from virtual reality technology. With a Virtual Office, adults with ADHD and others who have suffered from strokes or brain disorders might be able to retrain their memories or improve their ability to do two or more tasks at the same time.

While interviewing Rizzo, I found myself wondering if a Virtual Office might also someday be available to help writers get better organized.

Several groups of scientists around the world are looking for additional applications of virtual reality. One recent study found that the technology could help ease the suffering of children undergoing painful medical procedures. Kids who experienced a pleasant virtual reality while getting blood drawn or having healthy skin grafted onto severely burned areas appeared to feel less pain than those who simply watched a cartoon. In this case, distraction was a goal, not a problem.

As new applications arise and computer technology improves, it may get harder and harder to distinguish between the real and the virtual. Don’t get confused, though. Letting fly those paper airplanes might be okay in a virtual classroom, but it could get you into real trouble in a real one.

A Classroom of the Mind
A Classroom of the Mind








Designed and Powered by HBJamaica.com™