3D Virtual Environments

Virtual Reality in education and for employability

3D virtual environments in Second Life and developed using Unity 3D; virtual reality through 360-degree videos and 360-degree photospheres viewed through virtual reality viewers

3D virtual environments in Second Life and developed using Unity 3D; virtual reality through 360-degree videos and 360-degree photospheres viewed through virtual reality viewers

Webinar at the ALT Online Winter Conference 2017

On 13 December 2017, Dr Ana-Despina Tudor (@AATudor) and I presented a webinar at the ALT Online Winter Conference 2017.

Virtual reality in education and for employability

Virtual reality is becoming pervasive in several domains - in arts and film-making, for environmental causes, in medical education, in disaster management training, in sports broadcasting, in entertainment, and in supporting patients with dementia. An awareness of virtual reality technology and its integration in curriculum design will provide and enhance employability skills for current and future workplaces.

In this webinar, we described the evolution of virtual reality technologies and our research in 3D virtual worlds, 3D virtual environments developed in Unity 3D, and mobile virtual reality via 360-degree photospheres (e.g. as in the Google Expeditions app) and 360-degree videos. We discussed the technological and pedagogical affordances of virtual reality technologies and how they contribute towards learning and teaching. We discussed the significance of using virtual reality in education, in training and skills development, and for employability.

Presentation and recording

The presentation can be downloaded as a pdf from here (16.5 MB).

Webinar recording is at this link

Questions and answers during the session

Compiled by Dr Ana-Despina Tudor: Please refer to the  presentation (pdf file) for the context of the questions.

Question: Other than Google, are there any virtual reality (VR) education companies/start-ups out there that you would recommend we should have a look at?

The Guardian VR App: https://www.theguardian.com/technology/ng-interactive/2016/nov/10/virtual-reality-by-the-guardian or http://bit.ly/2fFo33B

The Economist: A 360-degree video about the oceans and corals that has the VR effect in the Chrome browser. http://econ.st/2nXIUIt and http://bit.ly/2BhB1mu

WaterAid: A VR documentary about the water crisis following the earthquake in Nepal in 2015. http://aftershock.wateraid.org/

Nearpod: A platform for interactive lessons. https://nearpod.com/

Daden, consultancy in the UK: http://www.daden.co.uk They have developed several applications for training and education. “Fieldscapes” (https://www.fieldscapesvr.com) has a mobile VR field trip to the Carding Mill Valley in Shropshire, UK.

Digital Explorers: provide 360-degree videos of various locations that can be accessed in the browser or via a VR viewer. http://digitalexplorer.com/

Class VR: Virtual reality on own head-mounted display (does not require to own a smartphone). Offers content for both virtual reality and augmented reality (AR).  http://www.classvr.com/

VR on PlayStation (example), please have a look at this article: https://www.theverge.com/2017/12/12/16767792/last-guardian-vr-demo-ps4-playstation-vr

Question: How have you dealt with accessibility in VR? For example, hearing-impaired students in Second Life when voice chat is going on, or visually-impaired students seeing what is going on at all?

In Second Life, we tend to transcribe along with a voice chat. In fact, I (Shailey) have done live-transcriptions in various Second Life events to describe the voice chat and context of conversations so that hearing-impaired users are catered for. For partially-sighted users, we tend to describe the scenes as we go along but I (Shailey) have encountered more of hearing impairments in Second Life than visual impairments.

The Google Expeditions App doesn’t have any audio. So, it is not a barrier for people with hearing impairments. However, the App can’t be used effectively for partially sighted people or with no vision at all unless the usage is accompanied by some audio commentary. When Google Expeditions runs in the Lead or Guide mode, for example, when an educator is driving the demonstration or lesson, there is an introductory text and examples of questions for each of the scenes in the expedition – which an educator or a teaching assistant may use to describe the scenes.

When the Google Expeditions app was first launched, the app could only run in the ‘follower mode’ (student) but the students can also run the expeditions in 'guide' mode – and, therefore, have descriptions of the scenes. So, even a fellow student may be able to help describe the scenes to a visually impaired student. Further, a partially sighted user may choose to run the expeditions on a Tablet (bigger screen) and without the VR viewers for greater visibility of the scenes as compared to a phone-screen.

Question: As a replacement for real field trips, is there any worry of losing out on new discoveries? You can only experience what has been created by your teachers — you can't prove them wrong.

We don’t perceive virtual field trips as a replacement for outdoor fieldwork. The design of the virtual geology field trip (Virtual Skiddaw) was based in the learning activities and curricula and our geologist colleague Dr Tom Argles replicated the physical field trip in the design of the virtual field trip. But we do understand your point about the selectivity by the educator and missing out the aspects that students would otherwise observe if they were in an outdoor field trip. This may be another critical reason that virtual field trips should be seen as supporting a physical field trip rather than replacing it.

Using a virtual field trip before a field trip can familiarise students with a place, can help them assess the risks and prepare better, can raise their curiosity and help them formulate questions and conduct research while in the field. During the field trip, students can use the virtual field trip(s) to compare locations. After a field trip, VR can be used to help students revise their learning and re-visit locations from a different perspective.  

In Google Expeditions, there can be indeed a selectivity effect of the virtual locations being shown, as pointed out in this question. However, the 360-degree view gives the whole picture of a location. Students can look up and down, left or right. The content creators have used so far birds’ eye view images, images from the ground level and underwater.

Also, there are apps such as Cardboard Camera that allow users to take 360-degree photospheres. If students are able to visit these locations, students can compare the photospheres they took with the ones taken by the educator and have a comprehensive view and perception of the place they have visited.

Question: How do you account for variations in student digital literacy?

So far we haven’t faced any issues with students using the mobile VR on smartphones. As researchers, we have been at hand to help during lessons too. We were invited to run lessons using Google expeditions by those educators who had already been using technology-enabled initiatives in their lessons. There are many educators who raised this concern and noted that many of their colleagues might find the technology difficult to manage for a class, such as: charging up to 30 phones, conducting system updates, downloading and maintaining the latest version of the app, running the app, setting up the network so that the tablet of the educator communicates with the smartphones used by students.

We feel that it is the educator’s digital capability and digital literacy that will influence the students’ digital literacy and capabilities.

Question: Do you prefer the students to sit on chairs, fixed chairs, rotating office chairs, cushions on the floor or stand?

It depends on the preference of students and educators. Some students preferred to stand while others were lying on the ground. When students stood up, they were advised to turn around but not walk around, as they might stumble or hit furniture. Educators gave them frequent pauses to discuss what they were seeing or to do some written activities so that they don’t feel unwell or feel nausea by looking at VR without breaks.

Question: top tip on where to start - low cost?

The Google Expeditions app is free and can be downloaded on iOS and Android phones. You will need to buy a VR viewer (starting from £5). Also, there are online guides on how to build your own cardboard VR viewer.

As an alternative and in the absence of smartphones, educators can use the app on tablets (but it would be a 2D effect only).

You can also download other Apps such as the Guardian VR to get a feel of the potential of this technology and its possible use in education.

Question: Are there any VR or AR projects to expand beyond visual and audio senses (such as touch), to completely immerse in a virtual world?

A haptic glove that works with HTC Vive: http://bit.ly/2B7nv1O

There are projects in higher education that use haptic feedback for medical training, for instance: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22402689

Virtual worlds for real experiences

Picture:  Educators' meeting of the Virtual Worlds Educators Roundtable (VWER) in Second Life

Picture: Educators' meeting of the Virtual Worlds Educators Roundtable (VWER) in Second Life

My inaugural lecture Virtual Worlds for Real Experiences will be held on Tuesday, 20 June 2017 at The Open University's campus in Milton Keynes, UK. I will discuss how online technologies such as social software, activity trackers, virtual reality and 3D virtual worlds bridge time and places, interleaving the virtual with the real – allowing people to communicate and collaborate with those whom they may have never met, experience places they may never be able to visit, shop, learn, and do research.

I will focus on three domains that we have conducted research on over the last few years:

  • social software;
  • digital health wearables or activity trackers; and
  • virtual reality and 3D virtual worlds. 
Picture:  Designing virtual worlds for real experiences

Picture: Designing virtual worlds for real experiences

The underlying themes of these three domains that I will discuss in the Lecture are:

  • how online technologies can empower people - to become more socially connected;
  • how being online can alleviate social isolation and loneliness;
  • how online technologies can provide real experiences - where people get value from their online interactions and, through that broaden their horizons; and
  • how online technologies can support individual and collective learning, skills development and knowledge construction.

In these initiatives, the design of the online technology is paramount for providing real experiences to the users. The dimensions of the design that I will elaborate in the Lecture are:

  • design of online spaces;
  • design of activities;
  • setting expectations of the users; and
  • scaffolding social norms, rules, roles and etiquette for interactions. 

The live-stream on the day and the video recording after the Lecture will be at this link.

The hashtags for this event are: #OpenMinds #OUTalks