Virtual Reality Multi-User Lab for Immersive Teaching
In this edition of Edify’s Fireside Chat, we were joined by Dr Imants Latkovskis, research assistant at the University of Glasgow’s Advanced Research Centre (ARC) and Sarune Savickaite, PhD student at the University of Glasgow’s School of Psychology and Neuroscience. They shared preliminary findings from their current research project, Project Mobius. Project Mobius seeks to provide new approaches to the use of Virtual Reality (VR) in teaching settings, and focuses on multi-user interaction in educational scenarios.
Multi-user interaction has long been a goal for VR and it’s becoming the norm in settings like VR arcades and conferencing tools such as AltspaceVR. However, there’s little research on VR generally or multi-user VR in education, and nobody has investigated multi-user VR scenarios where users are in the same physical space: the default assumption has been that users treat it like Zoom or Teams and meet in the same immersive environment. Understanding how learners and teachers can interact with each other and their virtual environments using VR would unlock a wealth of benefits – VR has the potential to make teaching abstract concepts and concepts that are difficult to display in 2D much more intuitive, and it can take classes to dangerous or inaccessible locations.
Enter Project Mobius. Funded with a £1m grant from Innovate UK and headed by Professor Fiona Macpherson and Dr. Neil Mcdonnell, both from the University of Glasgow, Project Mobius began in 2018 as an open call for academics to create VR university-level lessons using Edify’s immersive content platform. This call led to the development of ten unique VR teaching apps, each of which presented a teaching scenario that would be either very difficult or outright impossible to deliver in the real world. These included:
- Exploring the landscape of the Isle of Arran in ways that wouldn’t be possible if they had been there in person
- An introduction to the physics of projectile motion where students could perform a bouncing ball experiment while changing variables like friction and gravity
- Viewing and interacting with mutating proteins
- Visualising, exploring, and manipulating data as a 3D landscape
- Going back in time to see Gutenberg’s printing press and trying it for themselves
- A trip to the human stomach to see digestion in action
- Following a patient’s battle with salmonella and controlling their immune response to the infection
- Exploring the heart and travelling through a blood vessel, modelling the effects of different hypertension medicines
- Simulating the trolley problem, a philosophical thought experiment that asks about the value of human lives
- Working in a disease diagnostics lab and running PCR tests on the Zika virus
Project Mobius ran its lessons in three VR labs. The first was a permanent one in the grand Partick Burgh Hall, a civic events space run by the city. This was a permanent fixture with HTC Vive Pro headsets connected to PCs and clearly marked out ‘Play Areas,’ while the second was a pop-up lab in the Queen Margaret Union, a student union building on the university’s campus. This space used smaller Oculus Quest headsets that don’t need to be connected to a base station, and feature pass-through cameras so that users could see what was going on around them meaning that this lab didn’t need to build permanent Play Areas. The third experiment set up an individual, private VR pod in an office in the Alexander Stone building, a faculty building on the University of Glasgow’s campus. The idea behind this pop-up lab was to give teaching staff a room they can book which would have all the necessary tools for developing their own immersive lessons through the Edify Lesson Creator application. These lessons could then be delivered to students in one of the teaching labs.
As well as using these ten apps, Project Mobius used a unique data analytics platform that collected data on how the apps’ users interacted with their virtual environments and with each other. Because VR headsets are kitted out with an array of sensors, Project Mobius was able to collect a vast amount of data which can be used by educators to iterate future lessons.
What’s next for Project Mobius? When rolling out new labs, Project Mobius will work to overcome deployment issues they faced the first time round – these include ensuring that the deployment sites have high-speed Wi-Fi and developing a system so that users can ‘cast’ their headsets’ feeds to another device for troubleshooting. As well as this, new pop-up labs might use cloud streaming and edge computing to provide more computing power and circumvent the limitations of the standalone headsets used in those scenarios. As the project develops, so too will the ability to collect anonymised data that educators can use to improve future lessons – and as lessons improve, so too will Project Mobius’s userbase and the quantity and quality of their data in a virtuous cycle.
Want to find out more about Project Mobius? You can read a preprint article with the project’s preliminary findings here, read our summary of the preprint here or watch the complete Fireside Chat below. And you can try Edify’s library of VR lessons for yourself by downloading our free, no-commitment BETA.