A key reason Professor Gary Burnett wanted to deliver a university module in virtual reality was because ‘I was conscious that my students, when they go into their jobs, will have more and more exposure’ to the immersive technology
➨ Professor Gary Burnett taught 50 final-year undergraduate and masters’ students on several engineering degrees in virtual reality
➨ He used Mozilla Hubs, the social virtual reality solution accessible via a web browser, after a recommendation from a colleague
➨ To read the full article, you’ll need to pick up a subscription to VRWorldTech Magazine
Professor Gary Burnett, from the Human Factors Research Group at the University of Nottingham in the UK, recently showed how remote learning can be ideal for exposing students to virtual reality, ahead of them using the immersive technology in their future careers.
He turned to virtual reality when faced with the prospect of having to deliver the Simulation, VR and Advanced Human-Machine Interface course toward the end of 2020 for 50 final-year undergraduate and masters’ students on several engineering degrees.
Multiple lockdowns in the UK put a stop to in-person learning for many university students over the course of 2020. Rather than use video conferencing solutions, which he believes have several disadvantages for remote learning and teaching, Professor Burnett came up with a new way of delivering this particular module—virtual reality.
Above all, Professor Burnett wanted to expose his students to virtual reality. Many of them are prospective product designers and mechanical engineers, roles in which they are likely to increasingly use this immersive technology on a daily basis.
He says: “A key reason I wanted to do this was because I was conscious that my students, when they go into their jobs, will have more and more exposure to virtual reality. So, they need to understand the implications of the technology, its advantages and disadvantages, and how it can help them to do their jobs better.”
The problem was, Professor Burnett says, he knew only a few of his students would have their own headsets, and he wasn’t going to be able to immediately secure the funding to purchase enough of them on their behalf. There was also an accessibility problem.
“Even if I had enough virtual reality headsets, not all of my students would want or be able to use them,” he explains. Virtual reality-induced sickness would prevent some from using the technology, while he himself identified several drawbacks preventing their effective use in education.
For example, a user is unable to easily multitask while wearing a virtual reality headset: “You can’t engage with the outside world, to read notes or check on something in a different device. This was an issue when I wanted to deliver a lecture in virtual reality, as I had to memorise all the content before putting on the headset.”
Professor Burnett spent the summer of 2020 drawing these conclusions, working out limitations, students’ and his own requirements, and testing different available platforms capable of enabling remote learning and teaching.
He landed on Mozilla Hubs, the social virtual reality solution accessible via a web browser, after a recommendation from a colleague who had helped organise the IEEE Computer Society Conference on Virtual Reality and 3D User Interfaces last year.
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To read the full article on the University of Nottingham and what Professor Burnett believes is necessary to make virtual reality suitable for remote learning, you’ll need to pick up a copy of the next issue of VRWorldTech Magazine, which is available now in print.
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Issue six of VRWorldTech Magazine, the first of 2021, focusing on education and also featuring Immersive VR Education, Lenovo and MindFuel, is available now in print and on 22 February online.
Issue seven of VRWorldTech Magazine, which will be published in April, will focus on immersive technology hardware, taking a bird’s-eye view of the market and where enterprises might best direct their investments.
Images: Professor Gary Burnett