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Virtual reality in biology: could we become virtual naturalists?

  • Morimoto, Juliano1
  • Ponton, Fleur2
  • 1 University of Aberdeen, Zoology Building, Tillydrone Ave, Aberdeen, AB24 2TZ, UK , Aberdeen (United Kingdom)
  • 2 Macquarie University, North Ryde, NSW, 2109, Australia , North Ryde (Australia)
Published Article
Evolution: Education and Outreach
Springer US
Publication Date
May 28, 2021
DOI: 10.1186/s12052-021-00147-x
Springer Nature


The technological revolution of past decades has led teaching and learning of evolutionary biology to move away from its naturalist origins. As a result, students’ learning experiences and training on the science of natural history—which entails careful observations and meticulous data curation to generate insight—have been compromised compared with the times of the pioneers in the field. But will technology cause the extinction of natural history in its traditional form? In this essay, we provide a visionary—albeit not yet possible—perspective of the future of natural history in the technological era. We review the main concepts and applications of key state-state-of-the-art technologies to the teaching and learning of Biology including Virtual and Mixed Reality (VMR). Next, we review the current knowledge in artificial life, and describe our visionary model for the future of natural history voyages—the BioVR—which is an immersive world where students can experience evolution in action, and also shape how evolution can occur in virtual worlds. We finish the essay with a cautionary tale as to the known negative sides of using VMR technologies, and why future applications should be designed with care to protect the intended learning outcomes and students’ experience. Our aim is to stimulate debates on how new technologies can revolutionise teaching and learning across scenarios, which can be useful for improving learning outcomes of biological concepts in face-to-face, blended, and distance learning programmes.

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