Student with Virtual Reality glasses on
Does virtual reality work in teaching? Accompanied by scientists, students at the TUM Heilbronn Campus have tested it out.
Image: Matt Stark
  • Research news, Studies, Teaching

An interview with student Chiara Marske and Prof. David WuttkeThe Logistics lecture viewed through VR glasses

Approximately 70 students attended an entire semester of classes by Prof. David Wuttke in Virtual Reality (VR). In an interview, student Chiara Marske and the professor for Supply Chain Management talk about why they can remember the VR seminar better, what topics in the Management curriculum are a good fit for the format and when the VR glasses were distracting.

Prof. David Wuttke conceived two Virtual Reality-based courses in Production and Logistics for students at the TUM Heilbronn campus. The students received VR glasses or participated using notebooks, tablets or smartphones. The courses were held in summer semester 2021. Now Wuttke's team has evaluated the results of two surveys held during and after the courses as well as the wealth of experience gained and has published its findings in a white paper.

Professor Wuttke, digital teaching received quite a boost during the Corona pandemic. But was the lockdown the reason you were interested in Virtual Reality?

Prof. David Wuttke: Since VR teaching offers completely different possibilities via the virtual mapping of reality, I already explored the topic before the first COVID-19 reports. For example, with the help of apps, I wanted to explore how to simulate real-life situations - such as operations-related decisions in the company. What are the inventory levels like? Are there any unnecessarily long distances? Where are things simply poorly arranged? Where are machines at a standstill? We can practice the ability to optimize processes wonderfully in this way, without ever having to leave our desk. Of course, this came in handy during the pandemic - but even beyond that, the application areas  are diverse and highly exciting.

Now that you've completed a first test run: What are the decisive factors in holding a successful VR course?

Wuttke: First of all, different virtual rooms are essential, with which you can map the needs of a physical course well: You need a lecture room, but also spaces in which you can hold group discussions, for example. For the latter, the spatial audio feature, which I thought was a nice gimmick at first, was invaluable - because it allowed us to talk in small groups without disturbing others in the same room.

Chiara Marske: The effect was very close to actual reality: anyone standing near their avatar was easily audible. On the other hand, people in another corner of the virtual room were almost mute. This feature was ideal for group work and conversations.

Wuttke: Of course, good preparation is also crucial - both technically and organizationally. After all we needed to distribute VR headsets, and identify suitable programs. You also have to factor in technical problems, system updates and a possible discomfort of the students involved, especially initially. Some report feeling dizzy or even nauseous when entering virtual reality. In such cases, however, you can switch to a desktop alternative.

In what ways has VR teaching even exceeded your expectations?

Marske: What was amazing was that, in retrospect, I was able to remember the course content better than average - quite different from lectures in the context of video conferencing tools. The virtual environment helped to cement the content in my memory. Another advantage: Thanks to the VR headset, I was less distracted during the courses, for example by my smartphone, and was able to follow better overall.

Wuttke: I had the same experience. For example, I still remember exactly how we talked about supply chains at the seminar on the moon. The exoticism of virtual spaces certainly played a part in that. In general, however, virtual reality primarily creates visual links. And since we can support learning through visual context, retention was also higher here. Additionally, in a VR environment, you have more of a sense of presence than in a virtual call, where most people turn off their camera and are only present as a name on the screen.

Marske: True! Just being able to physically raise your hand and see who also wants to ask a question at the exact moment has brought a sense of community back into the course. Being able to mimic natural physical movements may sound irrelevant to teaching at first. But this creates a sense of togetherness that is not possible via conferencing tools. You can move toward each other, seek conversations and even tease each other.

On the other hand: What still needs to be optimized?

Marske: The biggest problem in VR teaching has been the lack of a way to take notes. After all, you can't see the keyboard or your hand. Solutions will soon emerge. In addition, we need to schedule the regular software updates even better so that we lose less precious time in the process. After all, you don't usually switch on your headset until shortly before the start of the course.

Do you think the use of virtual reality teaching formats will become established soon?

Wuttke: VR teaching probably makes the most sense in a hybrid setting: formats that thrive on interaction fit wonderfully into the virtual space. Classical lectures, on the other hand, benefit less from it. At the same time, we should always keep in mind: Technology alone does not solve problems. And since VR and AR (augmented reality) are still so new, we still have to figure out how to use them properly so that our students get the most out of them.

  • Around 70 studeProf. David Wuttke from TUM Campus Heibronn.
    Around 70 students studied virtual reality (VR) with Prof. David Wuttke for a semester at the TUM Campus Heibronn. Image: Matt Stark
  • Student Chiara Marske and Prof. David Wuttke at the TUM Campus Heilbronn.
    With VR glasses in the logistics lecture: student Chiara Marske and Prof. David Wuttke at the TUM Campus Heilbronn. Image: Matt Stark
  • Prof. David Wuttke from TUM Campus Heibronn
    VR glasses in teaching: Prof. David Wuttke is Professor for Supply Chain Management at the TUM School of Management. Image: Matt Stark
  • Chiara Marske is studying for a Bachelor's degree in Management & Technology at the TUM Campus Heilbronn.
    Chiara Marske is studying for a Bachelor's degree in Management & Technology at the TUM Campus Heilbronn and has tested the VR glasses. Image: Matt Stark

More information:

  • Chiara Marske is a Bachelor's student in Management & Technology at the TUM Heilbronn Campus.
  • Prof. David Wuttke is professor for Supply Chain Management at the TUM School of Management.
  • A large number of professorships at TUM are researching and testing Virtual and Augmented Reality formats as well as other digital technologies in teaching. The didactics experts at ProLehre advise and support teaching staff, analyze new findings on digital teaching and test them in the pilot projects held in the "InnovationLab".
  • At TUM Campus Heilbronn scientists from Management and Informatics conduct research and teach subjects related to the digital transformation and family-owned companies.

Technical University of Munich

Corporate Communications Center

Contacts to this article:

Prof. David Wuttke
Technical University of Munich
Professorship for Supply Chain Management
phone +49 7131 264 18 804
david.wuttke(at)tum.de

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