Teaching Physics with Virtual Reality Simulations

A project of the Ohio State University Physics Education Research Group

Computer simulations of physical phenomena have been a staple of physics teaching for decades. However, most physics simulations are of the sort where a user picks initial conditions, hits a "start" button, and then watches to see what occurs. While such simulations can be very instructive, especially if the user experiments with a variety of conditions, it is somewhat of an exaggeration to call such simulations "interactive". Interactivity, specifically "interactive engagement", is seen by most physics education researchers as a critical component to any truly successful physics curriculum. Without engaging the students' minds, forcing them to participate in an active role, conceptual learning is minimal.

It was in hopes of providing a more engaging experience that Dr. Bao began work on these simulations. In all of our simulations, the objects can be directly manipulated at any time by the user, just like a real object could be. Except during the "slow motion" collisions in one program, there is never a time that the user of these simulations just sits back to watch. Interaction with the objects can be achieved with the keyboard, but we recommend using a precision joystick (most ~$20-$30 "flight" sticks are sufficient, but the more sensitive they are, the better) to give users fine-grained control over how hard they wish to push.

The simulations are also designed to be as open-ended as possible, not being built to work with any particular sort of curriculum.

Within this website you can find the following:

If you are interested in using the simulations in your classes or research, contact Dr. Bao. The programs will eventually be released widely, but we are still evaluating where we would like to go with them.