Immersive technologies - including virtual reality and augmented reality - have the potential to revolutionise the way universities deliver course content, enabling learners to access spaces and engage with experiences that might otherwise be unavailable to them. This article explores how two institutions are harnessing the power of immersive technologies to aid research and make a positive impact on the wider community.
Image by Stephan Sorkin
According to Internet2’s 2018 VR/AR in Research and Education survey, 29 percent of higher education institutions have engaged in some level of VR deployment, 18 percent have fully deployed it and around half are either testing it or are yet to deploy it. (Their research also shows that 55 percent of institutions have a dedicated VR space.)
The pedagogical benefits associated with immersive technologies are numerous. Not only do they help students to visualise complex concepts, they also help spark creativity and work wonders when it comes to classroom engagement too.
Let’s take a look at how two universities are using immersive technologies - starting with the University of Leeds, who recently unveiled their new Centre for Immersive Technologies.
In June 2019, University of Leeds announced the launch of their Centre for Immersive Technologies, based in the Leeds Institute for Data Analytics. The centre is “designed to harness the power of immersive technologies, to upskill the next generation and push the boundaries of possibilities in research and education.”
A range of subject areas will be involved in projects - including those from arts and humanities. 80 researchers will use the facility to focus on research in five key areas: health, transport, education, productivity and culture. The space is being coordinated by six academics and it even has its own poet and (two) artists in residence, who will use it to inspire new work and add a different dimension to the discussions that go on inside.
Virtuocity is one of the centre’s key components; it uses immersive VR to facilitate research around the design of urban transport and city systems. It recently launched its Highly Immersive Kinematic Experimental Research (HIKER) Lab, which is currently the biggest 4K resolution simulator in the world.
Virtuocity’s technology enables students and academics to test real-life scenarios to inform their research and practice in the field of urban planning and transport.
Alongside innovation in this area, the Centre for Immersive Technologies will be using VR to train surgeons in developing countries and robotics to speed up accident recovery times, accelerate school children’s learning through immersive teaching tools, provide people with access to virtual cultural resources (including Virtual Holocaust Memoryscapes) and encouraging sustainability by working with companies to produce virtual prototypes.
The centre’s director, Professor Mark Mon-Williams from the University of Leeds’ School of Psychology, said: “Immersive technologies are a game-changer that will impact on every area of our lives, transforming how we live, work and play.
“This new centre will help ensure that the next technological revolution is harnessed for the benefit of society. By working with a wide range of partners, from technology companies and hospitals to museums, we are ensuring that the work carried out by researchers in Leeds is making a real difference to the world.”
Clip of an immersive experience created by Christophe de Bezenac and Dave Lynch, conceived and created as part of the cultural institute fellowship in art and science at the University of Leeds.
Benjamin Weistra and LaRae Smith, two education students from the University of Lethbridge in Canada, have created immersive learning tools for education programmes at the Galt Museum and Archives as part of their applied studies course.
Both projects focus on the history of southern Alberta, with the aim of increasing engagement among school students.
Aimed at grade 3 pupils, Ben’s project helps children learn about Ukranian-Canadian internment in the First World War, focusing on the tools prisoners used to escape from a Lethbridge camp in 1916. The tools themselves are currently on display elsewhere, so he’s employed 3D printing, VR and AR to recreate lifelike models of them for pupils to interact with.
LaRae has created a new board game aimed at grade 5 pupils which enables them to experience what it was like to be a farmer during the Great Depression of the 1930s. Users can buy things, farm their land and make important decisions around what to plant. Throughout the game their farm is hit by drought, grasshoppers and low market prices.
LaRae’s board game will be available in September 2019 and Benjamin’s project is due for completion by spring 2020.
As immersive technologies evolve and mature, they will continue to gain traction among consumers, businesses and the institutions responsible for ensuring learners are equipped with the knowledge and skills needed to navigate them. AR, VR and MR (mixed reality) have become common tools in higher education - and not just in STEM subjects.
As ever, we’re keen to hear about your stories and experiences. If you’ve been involved in a project using immersive technologies, get in touch and we’ll share it with our followers.
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