Last night, the University of Sydney launched its new Immersive Learning Laboratory which enables students to learn through VR. There’s no doubt, Sydney Uni understands that Virtual Reality is the next big computing platform which will deliver large advanced in education and entertainment, demonstrated by being the largest VR lab of its kind in Australia.
Located in the Faculty of Engineering and Information Technologies, its actually open to all students which is awesome. The University funded the development of the lab with a Strategic Education Grant, which aims to promote innovative and exciting educational practices, as well as the Faculty of Engineering and IT, and the University’s ICT budget.
The lab is made up of a full class set of 26 high-powered PCs and Oculus Rift headsets and touch controllers. Given the cost involved with immersive VR, most environments have a few setups that are shared, but this serious investment, means the whole class can share in VR experiences and development in an installation that makes it the largest number of VR devices housed in any educational institution in Australia.
This semester, 12 academics from the University’s faculties of Engineering and Information Technologies, Science, Arts and Social Sciences, and the Sydney School of Architecture, Design and Planning will use the lab for their teaching, using immersive content based on interactive 360° videos of real environments or constructed virtual realities.
In Semester 2, its expected that more than 700 hundred students will experience the highly interactive and explorative environments in the Immersive Learning Laboratory. Some of the current teaching happening in the lab includes:
- Humanitarian engineering – students explore villages in Niger to learn how to apply their core engineering skills to complex humanitarian problems.
- Marine biology – students discover life under the sea by exploring 3D models of reefs in the Great Barrier Reef.
- Astronomy – students explore the solar system and night sky in a real-time simulation.
Immersive Learning Laboratory project team member and lecturer in Humanitarian Engineering, Dr Jacqueline Thomas said,
“Virtual reality technology has revolutionised education opportunities by allowing students to experience and interact with new and diverse environments.
At the University of Sydney, we are utilising this technology to give our students virtual access to areas they would not normally be able to access. For example, many environments in which professional engineers and scientists work are restricted to students, due to safety and logistical constraints.
Rather than ‘tell’ the students what it is like to work in a particular field, we can use this technology to ‘show’ them and let them experience it for themselves.”
Professor Adam Bridgeman, Director of Educational Innovation at the University of Sydney, said the Immersive Learning Laboratory was an example of the University’s recent work to transform the learning experience for students.
“One of the aims of our 2016-20 Strategic Plan is to introduce new, more interactive learning experiences to engage and challenge students and serve as a springboard for graduates’ ongoing learning and for their transition to competitive, fluid and challenging work environments.”
Dr Thomas said she expected the Immersive Learning Laboratory would be utilised by academics and students from additional faculties from Semester 1 next year.