‘It feels so real’: Madison College brings virtual reality into the classroom

Nine different programs are using VR technology to give students a more hands-on experience in and out of the classroom.
Published: Apr. 9, 2021 at 10:53 PM CDT
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MADISON, Wis. (WMTV) - Students and families have become all too familiar with the phrase “remote learning” during the COVID-19 pandemic. Learning through virtual reality is not so common, but for many students at Madison College, it might soon become the norm.

Madison College is bringing VR technology into several different programs. Bill Ballo, part of the Academic Technology Wing, said one of the biggest benefits is that teachers can see students learn, think and react in real time, even if they are not physically in the classroom.

Ballo, who is spearheading the virtual reality initiative, said the first time he saw the VR software in action, he was hooked.

“I could manipulate the heart model, I could show it to my students, I could take pieces off of it, I was like, I’m sold,” Ballo described.

Ballo said the software gives students a more hands-on experience.

“I love it when they get the headset because the second they put the headset on, they’re like ‘Okay, wow’,” he explained, adding, “They can manipulate things with their hands in the environment, they can pick things up.”

For students in medical fields, VR technology is a chance to experience scenarios that are difficult to simulate in real life.

“I can put that patient into cardiac arrest over and over and over and over again,” Ballo explained.

Students can even access the software from home, essential during the pandemic.

“We’re replacing a little bit of that clinical time they lost during COVID,” Ballo said.

Paramedic student Tiffany Lenz said she has missed out on that hospital time.

“With COVID it’s been kind of hard getting into the hospital settings to do our clinicals and having the hands on experience,” she explained.

However, she says the VR experience feels real.

“It’s like you’re actually on an ambulance crew,” she described.

Lenz, who works full time as an EMT, said the VR gear is making an impact, even after using it only once.

“The scenario that I did...you see a guy laying on the ground and you can go and you can help him,” she explained, continuing, “You can talk to the guy, you can do CPR, you can give him medication, you can do IVs.”

Virtual reality technology is currently in use in nine different Madison College programs, including EMS and botany. Lenz said it is not an alternative to in-person learning, but she hopes it continues to be part of the curriculum.

“I feel like it makes the program stronger, and it definitely helps us learn better,” she said.

Madison College hopes to implement the new software in as many programs as possible, saying it can be useful beyond the pandemic.

“We’re really investing in it and we really want to continue this virtual reality initiative,” Ballo said.

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