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August 18, 2017

Sydney University’s Education VR Lab just opened and it’s the Biggest in the Country

Mark Metry Founder VU Dream
Mark Metry, Founder of VU Dream

The University of Sydney has launched a new virtual reality lab that will provide students with unique interactive educational experiences.

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Using 26 Oculus Rift VR headsets paired with high-powered PCs – more than any other educational institution – the Immersive Learning Laboratory is will be used by 12 academics across the university’s faculties this semester.
Over 700 students are expected to use virtual reality to explore villages in Niger, the Great Barrier Reef, the solar system, and other 360-degree content.
“Virtual reality technology has revolutionized education opportunities by allowing students to experience and interact with new and diverse environments,” said Immersive Learning Laboratory project team member and Humanitarian Engineering lecturer Dr Jacqueline Thomas.
Dr. Thomas said that the virtual reality technology will allow academics to ‘show’ what it is like to work in the field to students rather than ‘tell’.
“At the University of Sydney, we are utilizing 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,” Dr. Thomas said.
Academics and students from the University of Sydney’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 this semester, with additional faculties expected to come on board next year.
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Virtual reality (VR) technology has revolutionized education opportunities by allowing people to experience and interact with diverse environments. Many environments in which professional engineers and scientists work are restricted to students, due to safety and logistical constraints.
To transform the learning experience at The University of Sydney an innovative Immersive Learning Laboratory (ILL) will be established under this project. The laboratory will enable academics to teach using the immersive content based on interactive 360° videos of real environments or constructed virtual realities.
The latest Oculus Rift technology platform will be invested with 20 – 24 units available for tutorial sized groups, from Semester 2 2017. A technical research assistant will be employed to train and assist academics in content development and delivery.
The pilot program will utilise 26 individual courses taught by 21 academics from five schools in the Faculty of Engineering and IT (FEIT), two schools in the Faculty of Science and one school in the Faculty of Law. During the project an estimated 1350 students will experience the highly interactive and explorative environments of the Immersive Learning Laboratory. This is a sustainable initiative, as both FEIT and ICT are supporting the hardware set-up costs.
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In June 2017, 12 virtual reality desks were made ready to conduct trainings with academics. Workshops content and a lab user guide was prepared. 14 academics participated in three workshops. CIS service requests were made to prepare lab to commence teaching in Semester 2. Project team worked with CIS to decide signage according to University of Sydney’s branding guidelines. ICT and project team met to discuss various matters to prepare lab for Semester 2 teaching. ICT requests were made to secure VR hardware and provide support to commence trainings in Immersive Learning Lab.
Hardware: Rotating chairs were delivered to the lab and chair foot caps were installed through CIS to make them non-rolling. Requests for final computer and Oculus rift hardware made. ICT Request: ICT support was requested to secure machines and provide guidelines to install licensed soft wares.
In week 12 onwards, three training workshops were conducted. First orientation workshop was compulsory to attend by all academics who would conduct tutorials in Immersive Learning Lab in Semester 2. VR requirements for individual Unit of study were discussed and guidelines were provided to develop the VR content. Also, existing VR content was suggested to explore by the ILL’s team. Based on the first training workshop and Unit of study requirements, academics registered in related session of the next two workshops that discussed 360 video development/editing and VR content development.


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