Using Virtual Reality in large enrollment environmental sciences courses

  • Professor Nick Eyles, Department of Physical & Environmental Sciences, University of Toronto Scarborough


Growing enrollment has made it difficult to maintain the crucially important hands-on experiential learning required for environmental science courses. Traditional laboratory and field exercises cannot accommodate the logistical and accessibility demands created by large diverse classes. This project will offer online learning opportunities in the Department of Physical and Environmental Science at UTSC to preserve and improve upon the high-quality experiential learning experience associated with the Department’s Environmental Science programs. This objective will be accomplished through the development of a series of interactive and media-enriched virtual reality-based tours through Ontario and the Great Lakes, designed to demonstrate real-world applicability of classroom concepts.

Virtual reality provides an innovative immersive and novel platform for delivering enriched educational materials while increasing engagement by students to self-guide their learning. The VFTs will be accessible in two ways:

  1. In immersive virtual reality for students with VR-enabled devices, and
  2. In a “Google Street View” styled graphical user interface accessible on any computer.

VR-based VFTs have been shown to be highly effective in creating authentic learning spaces which support the pedagogical approaches of inquiry-based experiential learning in environmental education. The central focus of the modules will be on approximately 100 sites throughout the Great Lakes basin in view of their central importance to all Ontarians in illustrating economic and environmental history and future challenges. Virtual environments will be incorporated into 10 fully online modules which will be equivalent to the course content of an introductory environmental science course (EESA01) and will provide the basis for further development of online modules in other large enrollment courses across U of T.