Augmented and Virtual Reality for FE and Skills


There was a really good turn out for the latest in the FE & Skills Coalition series of meeting on the 31st October. There were many issues discussed and debated at the meeting, and some of  these will be covered in subsequent blog posts.

The focus in the afternoon session was on the role that Augmented and Virtual Reality (AR & VR) tools can play on FE and Skills education and training.

Following some hands-on demonstrations from Jisc’s own team who are working with these tools, and from Steve Smith and Frank McHale from Preston College at lunch time, the afternoon session heard from Jisc team, Leeds College of Music and Preston College.

There was a lot of interest in the role that these technologies can play in the FE and Skills sector. The ability to give students access to learning experiences that are either expensive, complicated or hazardous makes one case for exploring their use, as does the possibility of constructing learning opportunities that would be physically impossible in the real world.

Jisc’s activity

Matt Ramirez, Senior Innovation Developer in Jisc’s Digital Futures directorate opened the proceedings. He ran through some of the history of these tools, and their previous and current place on the Gartner hype cycle, and stressed the changing landscape due to the opportunity arising from the ubiquity of VR and AR capability on smart phones. Both Apple with its ARKit and Google with its ARCore are offering developers ease of access in return for entering their particular walled gardens. Standards that allow easy interoperability in this space are needed to break down these proprietary islands.

Jisc is looking at what institutions need to help them get going. Along with advice about how to select particular technologies for  evaluation or use in production environments, Jisc is looking at how to help with advice on things like repositories like SketchFab. Read Matt’s blog post which covers other interesting applications of these approaches to medicine, archeology and technical education. Martin Hamilton is Jisc’s Futurist, and he has written about Apple’s ARKIt, highlighting the way that it is mainstreaming augmented reality.

Preston College

Some colleges are already embracing AR and VR approaches. Steve Smith and Frank McHale form Preston College’s Preston’s College‘s Learning Lab confessed themselves near the start of their journey, and described their initial explorations and paid generous tribute to Matt Ramirez for his help in making some initial good choices in terms of technologies to investigate without spending a fortune and ending up with an expensive white elephant.

Steve and Frank stressed that while the potential of AR & VR tools is immense, their early experiences of talking to vendors was not encouraging. Their recommendation was to avoid the hard sell from the vendors with their ecosystems and explore ‘consumer’ level hardware and explore what can be done with these tools. They both stated that exploring the affordances of these tools had revitalised their interest and excitement in their role as teachers .

They concluded with these thoughts:

  • AR/VR is not a ‘Black Art’
  • It is not a gimmick anymore
  • Don’t be put off by high-value providers with inflexible offers
  • You can make a start for a few hundred pounds
steve vr

using VR headset and wands

Leeds Collge of Music

Leeds College of Music told us that they were further down the track in terms of implementing and making effective use of these approaches. Being a specialist music college, they have a requirement to teach students to be effective in the studio as well as as performers. They have created an AR resource that helps students get experience of setting up the patch bay (where audio signals are routed to sound processing modules and onwards). Students found this approach really useful, as it gave them the opportunity to fully interact with the patch bay and work things out for themselves.

LCoM AR Patch Bay

If you missed the session, there is a Periscope recording
Note – this was captured via an iPhone with no external microphone.

Presentations from this session are available on the Jisc Website.

Please continue this conversation by using #FELTAG and by joining the FE and Skills Coalition mailing list:

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