I love the way new realities have the ability to transform medical education and thus, at an earlier stage, biology classes. I’ve tested a whole range of content in this field, including both AR and VR experiences. Some are very good but often they can be pricier than other apps (likely because they are simultaneously being pitched as tools for doctoral students in medical colleges) which can make educators more hesitant to look into them. To be fair you get what you pay for and some of these tools are incredibly in-depth - essentially modern textbooks in mixed reality.
So when You by Sharecare popped up in the Steam VR store with a price tag of zero, I have to admit I was initially skeptical. How could a tool of this nature be completely free and as good as the trailer clips made it look?
I can honestly tell you that it is excellent though and we’ve already begun integrating it within our BTEC Sports Science curriculum with the Biology team waiting in the wings to get a look. Here’s some of the great features that YOU offers:
YOU places you in a virtual space with a life size human avatar stood before you. This can be switched from male to female as desired and you have the freedom to move or teleport around them to view from multiple angles. In your left hand you hold a menu with a kind of trackpad interface. Sliding the trackpad marker around allows you to pull the separate systems of the body (skeleton, circulatory etc) until you are surrounded by them stood apart in a circle. This allows closer inspection of each. The organs come out too and a labels toggle can be activated to see the names of each.
Also on the menu is a pen tool which can be used to annotate the models or highlight specific areas. This is particularly effective if connected to an external display as you can present to a class of students and draw their focus to a key area. It could also be used to assess student understanding by having them mark specific elements.
The camera tool
Another handy tool that I wish more VR apps would incorporate. The camera tool allows you to snap a screenshot directly within the app, negating the need to use the Steam VR screenshot function (which can be tricky inside YOU due to the locomotion interface causing you to move when you try.) images are saved to your PC's hard drive and can then be exported to a range of platforms to record the learning that took place.
A closer look at the organs
A further menu can be expanded from the palette which lists various organs of the human body, selecting one of these will replace the human avatar with a large 3D model of the chosen organ. As before, these can have labels attached and be annotated using the pen tool. Many offer further interaction too such as controlling the BPM rate of the heart and even bringing up an ECG display. These are fantastic for students learning about a specific organ or system in the body and the detail on the models is excellent.
Exploring the affects of disease
Most of the organs can have a range of diseases applied to them. This allows students to get a look at how the function of the organ is affected by specific conditions. It’s an excellent touch and in some cases you can actually also apply treatment and see the positive effects of the medecines used to treat these conditions. Can you figure out what the problem is in the image below?
Sharecare are updating the database regularly too so more and more content is being added to explore.
Diving inside the organs
The coup de grace is the ability to actually step inside some of the organs to see them at work. Having tried several 360s of a similar nature as well as a couple of dedicated VR experiences, I can honestly say that this is first rate. The detail is stunning with great textures and animation. Standing inside the heart you can jump between the different chambers and see the valves at work; the brain's synapses crackle around you whilst the the lungs allow you to develop a great understanding of the intricate structure that allow us to breathe. All of the previous tools are readily available too, allowing students to create annotated images which can be exported to document their impossible voyage.
I really do recommend YOU by Sharecare. It's an excellent example of the power of VR as an instructional tool and the inside-the-organs moments are superb. It's also proof that high quality virtual reality experiences don't need to be expensive!
Here's a little clip I recorded inside the experience. It shows both the heart and lungs from the exterior and interior.