The University of Glasgow and leading Scottish immersive technology company Sublime have combined virtual reality learning and video conferencing to help improve students’ remote teaching experience during the Covid-19 crisis.
Academics at the University of Glasgow’s Centre for the Study of Perceptual Experience and Sublime had built a physical higher education virtual reality (VR) classroom or lab with funding from Innovate UK.
This project, called ’Mobius’, was only weeks away from being officially launched when the Coronavirus public health crisis hit the UK. With the lockdown in place and the University working remotely, traditional classroom teaching using VR and the reliable access to VR hardware made the project progression impossible.
But in answer to the Covid-19 crisis colleagues have now developed ’Edify’ which they believe directly addresses some of these accessibility and physical remoteness issues, allowing lecturers to lead classes in immersive environments from anywhere in the world.
Students, studying topics including physics, history and anatomy, will be able to dial-in to their instructor’s 3D Lab or classroom environment, via popular communications platforms like Zoom and Microsoft Teams which have come into their own during lockdown.
Professor Sir Anton Muscatelli, the Principal and Vice Chancellor of the University of Glasgow, said: "This is a dynamic and positive response to the challenging situation we are finding ourselves in during this unprecedented public health crisis. Project Mobius is an innovative way of using virtual reality to help our students and tutors to learn and teach.
"Now this new solution, Edify, developed in response to the Covid-19 lockdown has the potential to allow students to access many of the benefits of VR teaching from the comfort of their own homes while social distancing is in place.
"I can see great potential to enhance the remote teaching experience for those studying subject areas covered by this pilot, allowing access to VR technology and recreating the experience of being together in a lab or classroom without the need for specialist hardware. I look forward to seeing how this develops."
The flexibility of the system, which will be available commercially in time for academic year 2020/2021 is timely, with the world’s student populations facing some uncertainty about what on campus teaching will be like, and with Universities adapting their provision.
Importantly, Edify’s developers have created a system that removes the need for high specification VR hardware, and that supports mobile and desktop usage via widely available third-party products.
This democratises the benefits of immersive learning for students, providing crucial accessibility to shared learning experiences as the academic world adapts to the challenges presented by Covid-19.
Sublime will also shortly be launching a competition inviting Higher Education institutions to submit their ideas for learning environments on the Edify platform. Winners will have their environments built for autumn term, 2020.
Dr Neil McDonnell, Lord Kelvin Adam Smith Research Fellow in Virtual Reality and Augmented Reality (Philosophy) at the University’s College of Arts, said: "Using virtual 3D environments in teaching can be extraordinarily powerful, whether those environments are accessed via VR headsets, via Zoom, or on a laptop screen. Edify brings that power to teachers in a practical, accessible way, and the competition being announced today is an opportunity for lecturers to have their own virtual lab, classroom, or environment built on this exciting new platform."
Martin McDonnell, CEO and Co-Founder of Sublime, said: "Sublime have been on an exciting Research & Development journey into realising the potential of immersive learning over the last two years, but the global pandemic has required us to respond dynamically to unprecedented disruption to teaching delivery worldwide - something felt keenly by our project partners, University of Glasgow. With Edify we will help address this challenge by enabling learning without limits through an immersive, online, and remote teaching ecosystem.
"Edify will enable educators and learners take a leap forward on the path to achieving the ’Learning without Limits’ goal and is perfectly suited to delivering high quality outcomes under these unusual and challenging teaching conditions. With Edify, our aim is no less than to make the impossible, possible, for learners and educators alike."
Sublime is pioneering the future of Digital Realities (Virtual Reality & Augmented Reality) with a range of solutions covering hardware, software, and content. Sublime’s solutions are aimed at transforming the worlds of work and learning, enhancing human capabilities, and providing next-level immersive experiences. More information on Edify can be found at http://edify.ac
Edify is the first product resulting from Project Mobius, a partnership between the University of Glasgow’s Centre for the Study of Perceptual Experience based at the College of Arts and Sublime. Supported by a substantial grant from
Innovate UK , the three-year project will use immersive technology to create high-quality teaching apps and lectures, which will be delivered via a bespoke higher education VR platform.
Ten VR teaching resources were picked as part of Project Mobius to go forward to the Glasgow pilot after being championed by lecturers teaching in these subject areas. The resources will now be developed and tested by the lecturers and students. As part of the pilot, the University will have two high tech physical VR labs for 15 students each at a time.