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Inside the Mine: A Virtual Reality Experience

I received an invitation from the Canmore Museum and Geoscience Centre (CMAGS) to the launch event for their brand-new Virtual Reality experience, Inside the Mine. I hit the RSVP button immediately. I had been hearing about this project since its initial planning stage, and I was keen to see the rollout.
I like virtual reality (VR) experiences. In 2017 I wrote about my random chance of participating in the beta testing of the ‘timeloper’ VR experience at Tower Bridge in London. When I think about museum experiences over the past few years, I am astounded by the changes in technology. You may remember that initially if you wanted a 3-D experience, you bought a coil book with transparent overlays of the archaeological sites. It seemed like a gigantic step forward when I visited an archaeological site and they dimmed the natural light and projected the past using a combination of laser projector and animation to show where walls, doors and windows may have been. On a very recent archaeological tour of Domus Aurea (Nero’s Golden House), we sat on benches in the dig area and had a VR tour using a synced program that guided us as a group yet enabled us to individually look around the house and garden as it was in 65 CE.
At the Canmore Museum and Geoscience Centre, we can now have a virtual reality experience of being underground in Canmore’s coal mine. I was talking to Jerry Auld, the animator and creative force of Inside the Mine. Jerry explained to me that if we were to analyse the developments in computer science, we would see a long history of alternation between the ascendance of hardware versus software. From his description, I thought it could be compared to a predator/prey relationship. The cycle of excellent hardware brings in the development of awesome software. Then as the software gets better and more demanding, now the hardware must catch up, and the cycle repeats. According to Jerry, we are now in the part of the cycle where the software is on the leading edge. It is becoming much more affordable and useable by an individual working out of a home office. I nodded in agreement thinking about the power of the photo and video apps I have on my phone. In Jerry’s case, it is not just the software: he has spent many years developing his craft, allowing him to create the virtual experience of being a Canmore coal miner. And that immersive experience is available now at the Canmore Museum.

I also had a good conversation with Canmore Museum director Susie Sparks. She takes the lead for education on the CMAGS board. We shared the vision of virtual reality in education as a means to bring real engagement to the students going far beyond traditional learning. VR brings in the experiential component to the learning experience. Imagine doing a field trip without the hassle of the release forms, finding the buses, checking out the location, working out the accommodations, weeks of planning and then worrying about 24-hour supervision duties. With virtual reality, you can take your students almost anywhere in the world and do it at any time, in any time period you wish.

If you are interested in developing more VR in your own classroom, let me suggest Richard Byrne. I have been following Richard’s blog for many years. He encourages the use of technology in education. Check out his website in the link below for his hints on using virtual reality in your classroom, he covers everything VR from field tripping to project-based learning.

The two limiting factors to VR technology in the classroom are the cost of the software and the power of the computers. We learned from Jerry Auld that the cost is coming down considerably and the power is going up. Next time you are in Canmore, take that virtual tour inside the mine and think about other possibilities for VR in education.

Links of Interest:
     Canmore Museum and Geoscience Centre

Inside the Mine: A Virtual Reality Experience

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