Immersive Environments event – Austin Court, Birmingham – December 2018


This is a brief review of the UCISA Digital Education Group (DEG) event on immersive environments. I co-hosted the event with DEG colleague Farzana Latif, the Digital Learning Manager at the University of Sheffield. On a cold and dreary December day, we listened to ten presentations on various aspects of virtual and immersive environments in various academic contexts.

Opening proceedings was my colleague Sammy Chester, presenting on Loughborough University’s first steps with VR in STEM teaching, where students would complete virtual laboratory exercises before entering the real lab to complete the same exercise. Over 80% of students wanted to see the technology used more wisely, and they appreciated the way that they could make mistakes in the virtual lab without wasting lots of time or resources.

The second presentation was from Luke Bracegirdle from the Keele Institute of Innovation for Innovation and Teaching Excellence. He demonstrated “KARE” (Keele Augmented Reality Environment) to show how simulation works with students and patients and also for clinical workforce training. The demonstration included a virtual patient arriving at a pharmacy and presenting a prescription. The patients can behave consistently and inconsistently.

After an early lunch and lots of networking and discussions about the miserable weather, we returned for the afternoon sessions. The first one was a team effort from Bournemouth University, featuring Debbie Holley, Elizabeth Falconer and Heidi Singleton. They presented two of their areas of work, “Virtual Avebury” and a virtual “deteriorating patient” simulation.

Virtual Avebury simulated how Avebury might have looked and sounded around 4,000 years ago in an immersive 3D environment, stressing the importance of soundscapes. This was available to the public at the Avebury site, and the project gathered over a thousand responses to their evaluation questions.

The deteriorating patient simulation was based on a case study, written by nurse specialists, which encourages decision making around the best course of action as a patient’s condition deteriorates.

The afternoon continued with a series of parallel sessions. The University of Sussex presented their “GoBags” to allow students and staff to experience and create their own 360º content. A small rucksack with all of the equipment needed to get started, and 360 degree photography has a low barrier to entry, since most people can take a photograph.

Tom Lovelock from Keele University was speaking on a similar theme, creating a meaningful and useful immersive environment with low-cost and free tools.

Joe Berry and Edwin Kyi from the University of Birmingham presented on their work around creating and utilising virtual tours to help students with practical work. They showed examples from a lab environment (virtual tours with actors in the lab are much better than looking round an empty one) as well as a geology field trip to Winnats Pass in Derbyshire (although it’s much more fun to ride down it on a bike!)

The other session upstairs was from Paul Driver, a learning technologist at Anglia Ruskin University. Paul presented on “Creating and Deploying Immersive VR Learning Materials in Health, Education and Social Care” and covered examples from teacher education, mental health, social care and nursing, as well as sharing some of the lessons learned.

The final parallel sessions started with Mohammed Nasif Mahmood and Terese Bird from the University of Leicester, “Can virtual reality ward round experience help to improve medical students’ clinical confidence and documentation accuracy?” Short answer – yes! They used scenarios from real life experiences on the ward at the Leicester and had lots of distractions in their virtual ward, including arguments coming from another bed.

Meanwhile, upstairs there was a session from David Vince, Lawrence Kizilkaya and Jamie Daniels of The Open University. They have created a set of principles which address some of the requirements for pedagogically viable VR learning experiences. They shared them alongside their toolkit and demonstrated some examples of them in action.

It was a very enjoyable day with a great mix of presentations, a good combination of “expert” created content alongside material created by staff and students. All of it bringing new learning experiences to life. It was great to meet lots of new people too, along with some old friends and familiar faces. The most common question was “when is it happening again?”

Written by: Rich Goodman

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