21st Century Technology Delivers History & Literature Lesson on Scotland’s National Bard!

Ever thought how marvellous it would be to drop into one of Robert Burns’ poems to see part of the story unfold?

Or get a live lesson from the comfort of your armchair on one of Burns’ iconic poems from a leading expert on Scotland’s national bard?

Or how about travelling back in time to Alloway Kirk in the 18th century on a strange haunted night similar to the one encountered by Burns’ popular character, Tam o’ Shanter?

Now thanks to new virtual reality (VR) education platform edify developed through a partnership between the University of Glasgow and Sublime you will soon be able to do just that.

Dr Pauline Mackay from the University of Glasgow’s Centre for Robert Burns Studies has worked with edify VR experts to create a virtual lesson on Scotland’s national bard.

Dr Mackay is now able to teach live lessons about the material culture that has been generated by Burns’ fame - and specifically by his supernatural epic Tam o’ Shanter - to an international audience from her virtual classroom at Alloway Auld Kirk in Ayrshire, Scotland.

The first live virtual lesson, via Zoom, will take place on Saturday 30 January 2021 and it is hoped this will be the first in a series to a broad international audience of school children, students, academics and Burns’ admirers.

In lockdown popular communications platforms like Zoom and Microsoft Teams have come into their own allowing many students to be taught remotely. Edify has combined VR technology and video conferencing to allow teachers and students to explore and learn in virtual environments.

Through the edify platform, anyone is able to dial-in to an instructor’s 3D lab or classroom environment, via these popular communications platforms.

Dr Mackay said: "Edify’s immersive technology will enable a host of relevant objects from disparate locations to be brought together and examined in the context of Burns’s most iconic poem, ’Tam o’ Shanter’, in the environment that inspired the work, Alloway Auld Kirk, complete with the resplendent imagery of the poem.

"In a sense, it enables us to create a comprehensive ’site of memory’, which is a real game changer in terms of the way we teach memory studies, and for the way people learn about the legacy and commemoration of important literary and historical figures.

"The possibilities for the implementation of this model in education, culture and heritage are limitless."

The Burns lesson using ’Tam o’ Shanter’ is the latest VR classroom to be created on the platform. It is also being used for students studying topics including physics, history and anatomy.

Fergus Bruce, edify’s Director of Education Partnerships said: "During this most unusual of Burns seasons, it is very exciting to be working with a world authority and superlative educator like Dr. Mackay to bring his work to life using the superpowers offered by immersive technology.

"VR allows teachers and students alike to go anywhere, and to do anything when you get there. Edify’s mission is to enable anybody with internet access to learn using the enormous flexibility, scope, and nuance these superpowers deliver, and we are thrilled to be continuing our partnership with the University as we roll edify out to teachers, students, and institutions world-wide.

"To mark this weekend’s event - and as a part of our ongoing effort to make innovative new teaching technology available and accessible as widely as possible - we are also offering test access to edify to any secondary school in Scotland until the end of the spring term."

As well as being able to take part in a lesson on ’Tam o’ Shanter’ from the virtual Alloway Auld Kirk, students will also be able to discover more about the growth of the popularity of Robert Burns and his poetry, after his death, through their memorialisation in material culture (everything from relics, to souvenirs and domestic objects).

To realise this Dr Mackay and edify have worked closely with the National Trust for Scotland Robert Burns Birthplace Museum.

Dr David Hopes, Head of Collections and Interiors for the National Trust for Scotland, said: "As custodians of the birthplace of Burns and the setting for his great poem, Tam o’ Shanter, The National Trust for Scotland is delighted to be involved in this cutting-edge initiative to make the place and its unique material heritage available for learning and inspiration."

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