University of Sydney students are receiving in-the-field experience and journeying to new territories – from foreign lands to the outer reaches of space – all without leaving campus.
As part of Sydney Innovation Week 2017, the University officially launched its new Immersive Learning Laboratory, powered by the latest virtual reality technologies and the largest of its kind in Australia.
Physically based in the Faculty of Engineering and Information Technologies and open to all disciplines, the lab was partially funded by a University of Sydney Strategic Education Grant, which aims to promote innovative and exciting educational practices. Additional funding was provided by the Faculty of Engineering and Information Technologies, and the University’s Information and Communication Technologies (ICT).
Most of the investment was used to purchase 26 high-powered PCs and Oculus Rift headsets – the largest number of devices housed in any Australian educational institution at present. Oculus Rift devices immerse users in interactive virtual reality environments by tracking their head movements to provide stereoscopic 3D imagery.
In Semester 2 2017, 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.
During the pilot program in Semester 2 2017, more than 700 hundred students are expected to 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.
“Virtual reality technology has revolutionised education opportunities by allowing students to experience and interact with new and diverse environments,” said Dr Jacqueline Thomas, Immersive Learning Laboratory project team member and lecturer in Humanitarian Engineering.
“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,” he said.
Dr Thomas said she expected the Immersive Learning Laboratory would be utilised by academics and students from additional faculties from Semester 1 2018.