Welsh partnership sees development of virtual reality education system

The Immersity VR system, which is being used for educational training

The Immersity VR system, which is being used for educational training

The University of South Wales (USW) and Cardiff-based Virtual Reality (VR) enterprise specialists Immersity have agreed a partnership which will see the technology used for educational training.

Immersity’s VR system will initially be used by USW students working towards qualifications in forensics and aircraft maintenance. As the technology is expanded across the institution, students on a wider range of university courses will be able to use the system.

Prior to Covid-19, there was already an appetite for ‘Extended Reality’ learning, but the technology had not been sufficiently developed for it to be used extensively. The pandemic reinforced the benefits of virtual learning, and accelerated the need for technology that would enable learning through simulation.

As part of USW’s 2030 Strategy, the University is continuously looking for opportunities to provide innovative learning and teaching, and research practices which are run through digital systems, while its Curriculum Principles include a commitment to develop new teaching and learning practices that are digitally-led, and relate to what is being developed in industry and business.

USW already uses simulation systems to support learning, particularly its Hydra Suite, which is an immersive environment for simulated scenarios used on a variety of courses, including Police Sciences, Nursing, Global Governance, Social Work, Public Health, Business, and Marketing.

To further develop these processes, USW needed to partner with a business that had specific technical expertise to create content for use in the virtual world, which could be synced with academic expertise and enhance the teaching and learning experience.

Nathalie Czechowski, Chief Information Officer at USW, said: “As part of the partnership, Immersity and USW are working on two Proof of Concept projects which evaluate the impact of VR experiences within a learning context - a Virtual Scenes of Crime House for teaching Forensics, and a Virtual Airfield for Aircraft Marshalling within the Aircraft Maintenance Engineering area.

“The Scenes of Crime House will enable our learners to practice while developing their CSI skills prior to entering into the real-life Scenes of Crime House, which is on USW’s Upper Glyntaff campus. It would also act as valuable alternative if students were unable to use the real-life house.

“Aircraft Marshalling experience will allow learners to gain ‘hands-on’ experience of an activity that would otherwise be, both logistically and financially, impossible for them to experience.

“The immersive technology would be supporting and enhancing learning as opposed to replacing real-life experiences. Once we have demonstrated the success of these pilot projects, we will be seeking to widen the relationship and start projects in other subject areas.”

To make the system as widely available as possible, and to ensure its cost is not restrictive, Immersity has created a cardboard-box VR viewer that works with a cellphone, making it accessible without the use of expensive VR headsets. The technology can also be used on a 2D computer screen, though it is not immersive.

The products will also be made commercially available, with the additional VR scenarios developed as a result becoming accessible across USW for teaching and learning on a range of courses.

Hugh Sullivan, CEO of Immersity, said: “The University has a Scenes of Crime House that has traditionally been used to teach forensics students how to secure and investigate a crime scene.

“When COVID-19 hit, it was no longer practical to have groups of students in such an enclosed space. We recreated a similar environment on our VR platform, and now students will have the opportunity to receive this training anytime, anywhere.

“Now that we’ve created this VR platform, we can build literally any environment in it within a quick timeframe to continue growing, especially in the fields of education and training. There is no limit to the ways this technology can be used.”

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