Research digital skills training 2021
Presence: distributed mixed reality learning environment
David White, Lecturer, Information Systems and Operations Management
The project, Presence, is about the creation of a Distributed Mixed Reality Learning (DMRL) environment that integrates technological advances in virtual reality, mixed reality, high-speed communications and holographic learning modules, to recreate conditions that enhance the learner experience whereby real human presence and physical artefacts interact with virtual human presence and virtual artefacts. Presence signifies the powerful and visceral effect that this technology displays on both individual and shared experiences, as a major advance in Information Systems User Experience.
Virtual and augmented reality (AR/VR)
The available hardware, such as Microsoft HoloLens and HTC Vive headsets at the Centre for eResearch (CeR), not only provide visual impact for research data, but also create new ways of enhancing interactive learning experiences for students. The AR/VR tools provide a virtual platform for learners to engage remote synchronous and asynchronous learning, because of their ability for participants to be “present” in the same space at the same time. Participants can also share this space with both physical and interactive holographic objects. While such technology offers new opportunities in the teaching environment, it also creates new challenges for educators, and may take some time to gain approval. Hence, we aim to provide a proof of concept by first adopting CeR’s mixed reality hardware to enable the research experiment to move forward.
Proof of concept
The focus of the project, from a system engineering viewpoint, is to use the best available tools in the University, then integrate them with existing infrastructure such as Canvas. The integration of technologies provides a platform for application development, which will allow us to discover features that are more effective for learning engagement in a mixed-reality environment. As a starting point, we use the virtual reality tool AltSpaceVR to test these ideas. We are also evaluating the augmented reality experiences with HoloLens. The use of these technologies has been found to be widely accepted in the education sector and in industry training.
The DMRL spaces also provide another approach to distance teaching and learning. It is hard to describe these effects in words since the experience is “physical”, and the sense of presence must be experienced. Some features of a DMRL space we have already experimented with, are:
- Custom ways of mounting as many screens as needed to the virtual walls.
- Group forums for discussions in a shared space without interference from others.
- 3D representations of objects that can be viewed spatially and from different viewpoints.
- Recording experiences from any viewpoint including from the participant’s perspective.
- Directing the user’s gaze to features of interest.
DMRL holds the potential to make remote teaching more immersive, and to give a real sense of physical presence in the space. Being in a virtual space also adds dimensionality to the teaching objects that can be viewed in a three-dimensional space from multiple viewpoints, instead of displaying information on a two dimensional screen. As part of project Presence, students are trying to test these concepts in mixed reality, and trying to translate them into potential use cases and applications for augmented reality.
An initial result from research on DMRL is the prototype application ChronoPlay. It is an educational game built for PC and mobile devices that engages the player with a time ordering quiz of historical events from the Big Bang up to the present. The timeline data can be replaced with players’ own data. In addition, we also collaborated with the Auckland Museum by taking the augmented reality setting, and converting the Museum’s data into a learning experience, which allowed people to physically move along the timeline of historic events that was displayed as a holographic projection.
Potential for broad usage
The use of DMRL can profoundly transform education. All work undertaken is seeking to “productionalise” so that other teaching and learning groups in the University can also adopt the technologies. We have established a collaboration with the Faculty of Education to ensure a sound pedagogical involvement in these new concepts. DMRL has been increasingly demonstrated in many other educational settings. Examples including the Case Western Reserve University project, and a published paper titled Maps and Globes in Virtual Reality from Monash University, are interesting, and will facilitate a leap forward in productivity, collaboration and innovation. The research is supported by the Dean of Business School, and aims to be the starting point for on-going support and development of virtual teaching and learning spaces.