Immersive technology for teaching and learning piloted via existing video-conference software
The University of Glasgow and leading Scottish immersive technology company Sublime have combined virtual reality learning and video conferencing to help improve students’ remote teaching experience during the Covid-19 crisis. Academics at the University of Glasgow’s Centre for the Study of Perceptual Experience and Sublime had built a physical higher education virtual reality (VR) classroom or lab with funding from Innovate UK. This project, called ‘Mobius’, was only weeks away from being officially launched when the Coronavirus public health crisis hit the UK. With the lockdown in place and the University working remotely, traditional classroom teaching using VR and the reliable access to VR hardware made the project progression impossible. But in answer to the Covid-19 crisis colleagues have now developed ‘Edify’ which they believe directly addresses some of these accessibility and physical remoteness issues, allowing lecturers to lead classes in immersive environments from anywhere in the world. Students, studying topics including physics, history and anatomy, will be able to dial-in to their instructor’s 3D Lab or classroom environment, via popular communications platforms like Zoom and Microsoft Teams which have come into their own during lockdown. Professor Sir Anton Muscatelli, the Principal and Vice Chancellor of the University of Glasgow, said: “This is a dynamic and positive response to the challenging situation we are finding ourselves in during this unprecedented public health crisis. Project Mobius is an innovative way of using virtual reality to help our students and tutors to learn and teach. “Now this new solution, Edify, developed in response to the Covid-19 lockdown has the potential to allow students to access many of the benefits of VR teaching from the comfort of their own homes while social distancing is in place. “I can see great potential to enhance the remote teaching experience for those studying subject areas covered by this pilot, allowing access to VR technology and recreating the experience of being together in a lab or classroom without the need for specialist hardware. I look forward to seeing how this develops.” The flexibility of the system, which will be available commercially in time for academic year 2020/2021 is timely, with the world’s student populations facing some uncertainty about what on campus teaching will be like, and with Universities adapting their provision. Importantly, Edify’s developers have created a system that removes the need for high specification VR hardware, and that supports mobile and desktop usage via widely available third-party products. This democratises the benefits of immersive learning for students, providing crucial accessibility to shared learning experiences as the academic world adapts to the challenges presented by Covid-19. Sublime will also shortly be launching a competition inviting Higher Education institutions to submit their ideas for learning environments on the Edify platform. Winners will have their environments built for autumn term, 2020.