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Innovation & Startups

Fox Chapel students hike the Trillium Trail virtually and in person

Imagine traipsing through a fantasyland of three dimensional, high-fidelity virtual simulations—a place filled with colorful flowers, fauna and birds--learning about the environment around you as you go.
And afterward, actually going there in real life.
Maria Harrington, assistant professor of computer sciences at Slippery Rock, has developed The Virtual Trillium Trail, a virtual field trip that layers high-end gaming engines with virtual reality simulations and real photographs to create a new education tool for students.
Students at O’Hara Elementary School in Fox Chapel were among the first to pilot The Virtual Trillium Trail. What makes it unique is students have 360-degrees of freedom as they journey along the trail, wandering where they choose, clicking on and collecting knowledge and learning about the environment.
Harrington has drawn information from data on public terrain, facts from the Audubon Field Guide and plant population studies to create simulations of the environment. The Virtual Trillium Trail is a scientifically accurate real world simulation of the real trail in Fox Chapel, PA near Stoney Camp Run and Squaw Run creeks, she says.
A flower tells the story of photosynthesis. Stumble upon a waterfall and learn about watersheds. Students can become hawks and fly over the forest or a deer and run through the stream.
Following the virtual field trip, the students then set out—notebooks in tow--to hike the real Trillium Trail. 
“It’s a paradigm shift making these virtual realities available,” says Harrington. “Think of the places you can go, true virtual realities and simulations. We can immerse ourselves in a new type of learning environment.”
Students were able to identify trees and flowers they had learned about when they later walked the real Trllium Trail, explains Harrington. They were sharing the knowledge they had learned with one another.
Harrington hopes to raise funding through angel investors to take her company, Virtual Field Trips, to the next level.
“Kids are not an easy market. It has to be totally bullet proof for a kid to use it like a tool. They totally picked it up and ran with it.”
Writer: Deb Smit
Source: Maria Harrington, Virtual Field Trips
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