At the Boys & Girls Club of Evansville, virtual reality is shaping students’ futures. Through Oculus headsets and funding provided by the Indiana Alliance of Boys & Girls Clubs, the club is test-driving a virtual reality pilot program that immerses students in industries such as automotive maintenance, food service, and electric repair. If successful, the program will expand throughout Indiana.
“It’s not as big a jolt to the kids because they’re used to this kind of technology. But they say, ‘Is this what it really looks like under a car?’ They get to experience things that they wouldn’t normally see,” says Amy Hahn, director of programs at the Boys & Girls Club.
To pass each session, students must complete specific skills correctly. A virtual guide named Simon helps them, and a star system tracks their mastery of skills. Hahn points out that students are learning practical skills, such as how to correctly use a fire extinguisher, change a car’s oil, or settle flour in a measuring cup.
“There are so many different running parts to each job and industry, and all of them are needed. They’re learning it’s all a process and connected,” Hahn says.
The program also involves casting, which projects a simulation so others can see it while one person demonstrates an activity. This interactive element allows observers to collaborate with and advise the student simulating a task.
“Kids in the simulation gain more confidence in their ability to complete a task, and helpers gain more confidence knowing that they helped someone,” Hahn says.
At the end of the pilot program, the club will keep some of the headsets and hopes to secure additional funding to expand the program.
“We want to get other groups involved — parents, siblings, and community partners. This is one tool in the toolbox,” Hahn says.