It gives me great pleasure to report back from the recent, exciting XR workshop that was organised by Craig Anslow, professor at Victoria University of Wellington. This workshop was aimed at university students in the field of graphics, UI as well as software/hardware, to learn about the technologies existing in the field of XR ( Extended reality (XR) is a term referring to all real-and-virtual combined environments and human-machine interactions generated by computer technology and wearables. It includes representative forms such as augmented reality (AR), mixed reality (MR) and virtual reality (VR) and the areas overlapping. XR is a superset which includes the entire spectrum from “the complete real” to “the complete virtual” in the concept of reality–virtuality continuum). The learning objective for the week, was to be enlightened by the amazing keynote speakers who are doing research in this field, combining XR in medicine, education, entertainment, etc. as well as learn how to use these technologies through mini workshops, then get in groups and come up with an idea and demo by the end of the week. Seems like a lot for a short amount of time, but we had some fantastic demos come through!

I write this blog post from the lens of a ‘school teacher/outreach event coordinator’, looking for opportunities as to how this workshop could be adapted, if possible, for 10-18 year old students who may be considering this field in the near future. Our first keynote speaker Joaquim Jorge, from the University of Lisbon, Portugal blew us away with the amazing research that his team have been doing in this field. His keynote on Approaches and Challenges to Virtual and Augmented Reality in HealthCare and Rehabilitation, showed some serious advancements done in the area. [Keynote video will be embedded soon]. The other keynote that I had the opportunity to attend (as I had work commitments, so I missed out on two), was the Future of Tech Interaction: Empathic Computing by Mark Billinghurst from University of Auckland. He is well known in the industry as a pioneer for Extended Reality Research. One very good use of this technology that he discussed was for live support! A power company was using that technology to diagnose and fix electrical issues at a power station by sending in professionals with headsets which can live stream to another headset at the office while a person giving instructions on how to fix the issue can be solved interactively as well as upgrades done seamlessly without having to send the ‘expert’.

While the keynotes each morning got everyone excited about the future of XR, the workshops hosted by various professionals in the field gave them technical learning on using specialized software and gear. The software they used for the 4 days was Unity, an industry software for game making and interactive learning. The hardware options were the HTC Vive, Oculus Go and Quest, and the Magic Leap. Over the next few days, the students got into groups, pitched their ideas together and shared learning to design and develop a demo using one of the technologies. As the students came from varied backgrounds of graphics, design and software, it was great to see a wide array of creative aspects and technical expertise combine to create some amazing output. On the final day, we had an open evening for people to come and check out the amazing work the students had done. Prizes were handed out and students made some much-needed industry contacts.

Mark Billinghurst- University of Auckland

As I ponder on the possibility of a similar workshop aimed at school students, I would need to consider time as a crucial factor: students will not get 3-4 days out of school. Hence it would be more like a holiday programme designed for mostly senior students (since Unity has a steep learning curve). The hardware needed can be sourced from local industry as they are willing to assist with gear and resource people. The keynotes each morning could be for 30-40 mins max and maybe an element of game design and XR could be a focus, as gaming resounds well with the current generation of students. Followed by a tour of a local XR company or an institution (like CMIC, Wellington) who do amazing research in the area could be combined to make it interesting. If I was planning for next summer, I would need to start sometime now given the amount of effort in planning and executing this event. The big question I need to ask is ‘why should I organize something like this for (school) students?’  There is evidence to show that Immersion enhances motivation and learning, through Actional, Symbolic/Narrative, Sensory and Social (Liu, D., Dede, C., Huang, R., & Richards, J. (2017). Making authentic learning contexts for students, which then via ‘situated learning’ (learning that takes place in the same or similar context to that, in which it is later applied) and the ‘transfer’ (application of knowledge learnt in one situation to another situation) can be made possible through these immersive environments like AR, VR and MR (or XR which combines them). If younger students see the opportunities in ‘creating’ these technologies and content, then they won’t just be passive users as most of them currently are, but active creators of content which we would like them to be!      

If you are interested in the research side of these technologies in education, read Virtual, Augmented and Mixed Realities in Education (reference below). It’s a great read for all of you doing #31daysOfARVRinEDU on Twitter.

Here is a video summary of the XR workshop. Not all aspects are covered, as I couldn’t attend all the sessions. Huge applause to Craig Anslow and Siyun Thompson(Centre Manager, CMIC) for organizing the event. This was in conjunction with University of Canterbury and University of Auckland who will also host their respective workshops later this year. 

References:

Liu, D., Dede, C., Huang, R., & Richards, J. (2017). Virtual, Augmented, and Mixed Realities in Education (1st ed. 2017.). https://doi.org/10.1007/978-981-10-5490-7

https://sites.google.com/view/xrworkshop/home accessed 24 February 2020

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