Laying down the foundations for a VR/AR future in education

The advent of technology has unleashed rapid changes to our lives and the way we do things, as we prepare to usher in the Fourth Industrial Revolution (IR4.0).

A key component of IR4.0 is virtual reality (VR), and augmented reality (AR) which create immersive experiences for human beings, at their doorsteps.

While the benefits of technology itself may be infinite, the need for human beings to embrace change is profound, and nowhere is it more evident than in the field of education.

The Monash University Malaysia Educational Gamification and Immersive Experience Lab forum last week brought together experts in VR and AR, to discuss the future of education and to demonstrate the potential of resources available today.

To the uninitiated, the process of integrating AR/VR into education may seem like an enormous task. However, Dr Irwyn Shepherd, Senior Simulation Education Specialist, eSolution, Monash University Australia, dispelled such concerns, and urged people, instead to focus on their strengths, and build partnerships.

"Don't be fearful of technology. Look at how you can put your skill sets to good use, and reach out to others who are doing it (AR/VR) and become partners with them. Get involved and have fun.

"The prices are coming down, and the technology is improving. An organisation will invest in the technology if it sees its return-on-investment," Dr Shepherd said.

Cloud computing has dramatically enhanced VR/AR in helping make real-time updates to teaching, learning and other application.

One of the finest examples of the tremendous benefits of VR/AR is evident in the field of medicine. Doctors, now have the opportunity to continually hone their skills with a myriad of applications that allow them to explore the human anatomy, with the ability to dissect into organs and look inside.

As explained by Associate Professor Arkendu Sen, the Monash Augmented Reality Anatomy Learning Objects (MARALO) with high-resolution AR rendered anatomical/pathological cadaveric specimen is an innovative virtual/augmented reality museum repository.

Dr Irwyn Shepherd

"This environment contains embedded 'triggers' or 'markers' that when scanned, will display high-resolution 3D images of cadaveric/pathological AR content. Users of MARALO will view it as a floating overlay in front of real specimens inside the Medical Anatomy and Pathology E-Learning Laboratory (MAPEL) lab's glass display. This, in turn enhances the user's learning experience," he stated.

The Human Inner Space Virtual Reality (HIS-VR) with a walk-through of surgical anatomical spaces was created for an immersive interactive virtual environment for a simulated a walk-through and exploration of visually complex surgical anatomy spaces/relations (e.g. inguinal canal or middle ear cavity).

"When students complete their MBBS and go to the hospitals, they are cut off from the whole educational impact and support from the medical school. VR/AR allows them to revisit medical school with just a mobile device," he added.

These tools have been positively received by the new generation of digitally savvy students and can also be applied to other practical-based STEM disciplines, and advance simulation approaches to healthcare learning across the Asia-Pacific. The project was funded by a competitive grant and won an international Best Paper award in 2016.

"We have been using electronic mannequins for quite some time which can mimic any intense  medical illnesses to simulate clinical teaching.But  now simulation is being reshaped by VR/AR. If we able to create a VR/AR and incorporate it into clinical practice students will be benefited to gain more genuine  feeling of the scenario,manage under time pressure and enhance critical thinking “ added by Dr Najnin Ahmed, lecturer in Emergency Medicine at Jeffrey Cheah School of Medicine and Health Sciences.

The audience was entertained by the Mixed Reality Serious Game designed by Dr Ali Rashid from the School of Engineering. The game is aimed at improving the safety of construction workers. This fascinating game takes users into a construction site and lets them lay down the foundations for a building. However, users will first need to adhere to all the safety measures required of construction workers, such as wearing a helmet, the right boots and a whole host of other things, before they can begin.

Instilling a sense of perspective into the conversation, Jonathan Lee, Senior Manager Training and Learning Technologies, EON Reality Pte Ltd, reminded the audience of where the priorities lie, when we seek for VR/AR solutions in education.

"Always remember one thing, the technology doesn't matter, what's more important is we need good pedagogy. Good pedagogy leads to good learning outcomes," Lee said.

Lee, who is a Monash University Malaysia alumni, then got the audience to participate in an interactive learning session through the installation of the Creator AVR app.

In it, there is a treasure trove of information to be consumed in the form of VR/AR. The subjects vary, from biology and medicine to humanity, through to engineering, and food and nutrition.

The mere thought of designing a game could cause palpitations to many in the education industry. The fear of layers and layers of coding instils the sort of fear that makes you wish you are never involved in that process. However, it is not as complex a problem as it may seem. Dr Amuthageetha Nagarajan, Educational Designer, Education Excellence, Monash University Malaysia, elucidated the process of game design.

"You may think that you're not in the field of game development, and you may see little benefit to pick up this skill. However, there are two reasons why you should learn this. Firstly, game designers who are well versed in their respective fields, they are not academics, and they have a problem finding the right formula to teach kids. The second reason is, academics know what exactly what are the problems students are facing. It's in our hands to provide the right prescription," she said.