Using Virtual Reality to Increase Student Understanding and Interest in Farm Animal Welfare

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The objectives of this study were to determine student understanding in virtual reality (VR) in a virtual farm tour on a swine or dairy farm. A total of seventy-one participants, including 32 undergraduates, 33 graduates, and six veterinarian students. A pre-survey was given to students before using the VR headset. Following the pre-survey, students viewed a 6–8-minute guided VR tour of one farm. Students then experienced an interactive portion lasting an average of one hour and three minutes, which involved going through interactive hotspots with in-depth welfare case studies, videos featuring farm employees, and demonstrations of husbandry practices. After completing the interactive portion, students completed a post-survey that assessed their VR experience and knowledge of animal welfare utilizing a 1-to-5 Likert scale. Students were categorized based on their VR experience, agriculture background, and current academic level, and they self-identified as having experience with only Virtual Reality (VR), only Augmented Reality (AR), both (BOTH), and no experience (NONE). Additionally, students self-identified their agriculture background as not growing up on a farm (1), growing up in a community with little farming (2), engaging in farming as a hobby (3), or relying on farming as a source of income (4). Academic levels were indicated as Veterinary students (V), graduate students (G), undergraduates in junior/senior years (UP), and undergraduates in sophomore/freshman years (UD). The data was analyzed using a mixed ANOVA in SAS 9.4 (Cary, NC). Students who had used only VR in the past reported enjoying the VR compared to those with experience only in AR (VR: 4.39 ± 0.6; AR: 2.25 ± 0.5; P = 0.04). Students who had previous experience with VR rated the tour as a valuable supplement to visiting a farm (VR: 4.43 ± 0.5; AR: 2.67 ± 0.5; P = 0.03) and were highly likely to recommend it to their classmates (VR: 4.83 ± 0.6; AR: 2.63 ± 0.5; P = 0.02). However, no differences were observed for students with no VR or AR experience or with both VR and AR experience. Veterinary students demonstrated the least interest in animal welfare, whereas graduate and undergraduate students exhibited higher levels of animal welfare knowledge dependent on agriculture background (V: 58.9 ± 7.5; G: 84.3 ± 3.2; UP: 82.7 ± 4.5; UD: 73.0 ± 4.7). Further research is needed to determine if veterinary students are more interested in companion animal welfare than farm animal welfare and if students with AR experience overestimate their confidence with VR technology or have no interest in using the VR simulation.

Embargo status: Restricted until 09/2028. To request the author grant access, click on the PDF link to the left.

Virtual reality perceptions, experience, animal welfare