Get started with virtual reality for learning and teaching

Get started with virtual reality for learning and teaching

When I speak at conferences, many academics tell me that they are enthusiastic about creating virtual reality (VR) experiences but have no idea where to start. So they don’t take the first steps. Lack of funding, technical skills, time and support often prevent academics from entering the world of virtual reality.

This is unfortunate as VR has helped Anglia Ruskin University develop innovative placements for student nurses when opportunities are scarce. We created a virtual simulated placement called Hilda’s Home. Filmed in 360-degree video, Hilda’s care was storyboarded around activities of daily life. This included eating and drinking in the kitchen, sleeping and dressing in the bedroom and grooming/personal hygiene in the bathroom. We also used Microsoft’s mixed reality HoloLens connected to Microsoft Teams to transport students directly to Hilda’s home to meet her.

HoloPatient Covid-19 captured by GigXR in ARU’s skills lab
Photo: Siân Shaw

You can start right away without any funding, technical skills or support. Start small – small acres can grow into mighty oaks. Start with what you have and you will get where you want to go. Use what is free and easily accessible and be prepared to sacrifice some of your own time and energy.

Here are key tips to start using VR in teaching and learning.

Start with what is free and already made

Look on YouTube for virtual reality scenarios: for example, A walk through dementia from Alzheimer’s Research UK, Lions 360° of National Geographic and 360° VR Spacewalk Experience from the BBC. With your iPhone and some cardboard or cheap plastic reusable lenses, you’re on your way. You simply open the video in YouTube on your mobile phone, insert the phone into the carton of Google Lenses and for less than £10 you enter the world of full 360-degree video.

Use 360 ​​degrees photos

To make it simple, start with a 360-degree photo rather than a video. You can buy a 360-degree camera from £120 upwards. If you have an iPhone, you can use the panorama mode in the camera app. The panorama mode can take pictures both indoors and outdoors; a museum or art gallery can be an interesting place. There are many videos on YouTube to show you how to do this. You can add hotspots to your photos and create tours using easy-to-use software like CloudPano or thing link.

Create videos with your smartphone

If you want to create your own 360-degree videos, you can do it on your smartphone. You must use the Google Street View app, available for iOS and Android.

Be realistic and think about how you can use your own VR resources to teach

If you want to use VR in your teaching, you need to be realistic about what is achievable. In the Faculty of Health, Education, Medicine and Social Care the student cohorts are large – our September 2022 intake of student nurses is 850. There is no way that using virtual reality in a way that requires students to use expensive individual headsets will work .

However, film 360 degrees virtual reality scenarios that can be easily embedded into our learning management system (LMS), Canvas, work. You can upload the 360 ​​degrees movies you record on YouTube and embed from there with an embed code.

It can also work for your LMS. Hundreds of students can access the scenarios simultaneously, and we add a layer of pedagogical resources around the 360 ​​degrees scenarios we created. You may be lucky enough to work at a university that has a media platform that accepts 360 degrees videos; Anglia Ruskin has just invested in Yea, which enables us to do just that.

Storyboard your films

I prefer to use authentic environments and do not venture into the world of computer graphic images. I don’t have the knowledge, funds or time. Storyboarding scenarios and filming real people and environments is much faster and more realistic. Plan what you are going to record and write out and draw the scene(s) you want to create. Think about what resources you need to place in the environment, and how you will set them up. Consider using drama students from your university if you need actors (emerging artists also need experience).

Find funding

At some point you will need finance. A 360-degree camera can set you back £500. My advice is to look around your university for small pots of money available. Anglia Ruskin University has a teaching and learning fund where academics can bid for funding of up to £3,000 per project; this is source i used often. Once you start and demonstrate what you can do, the money will be more readily available.

Fly high

Developing cutting edge work and pushing boundaries with new technologies like HoloLens requires developing networks of experts to learn from and help you. It takes time and patience. Get involved in projects managed by your university’s IT and learning and teaching departments. You have to believe something is possible to make it so.

You also need to be prepared for lots and lots of pushback and rejection. Spend time with cheerleaders, the people who will and can help and support you. Other universities are unlikely to tell you all their secrets about how they achieved what they did. Just as with scientific developments, educational innovators want to keep their secrets. You need to be a detective who is constantly looking for solutions if you want to be on the cutting edge, and you will need energy and resilience.

Siân Shaw is Associate Professor of Digital Innovation in Nursing and Director of Learning, Teaching and Assessment at Anglia Ruskin University.

The ARU Virtual Placement Team was shortlisted for Technological or Digital Innovation of the Year in the Times Higher Education Awards 2022. You can find the full list of winners here.

If you found this interesting and want advice and insight from academics and university staff delivered straight to your inbox every week, subscribe to the DIE Kampus newsletter.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *