Our Virtual Reality Journey

So I’ve been looking forward to this for aaaages !! (Since 2016 to be exact)

In last year’s budget (2017 – 2018) we decided to put a small pot of the e-learning money aside for small scale Virtual Reality (VR) to be trialed with 1 group of students over a full academic year (2018 – 2019), starting with a 360 camera and then working our way up to headsets.

After talks with other digital and e-learning professionals, based on previous work and shared best practice from European projects, we sourced a 360 degree camera which was cost effective – lowest price for best recording. As the camera had to be flexible enough to work with the e-learning team, students and teachers – it had to be easy to use and the 360 video/images stitch themselves, rather than having to learn and understand another software package to stitch it all together. From here we put the tester footage into our video platform. After looking into this as a stand alone 360 video for students to review online, it didn’t seem to be much different than using a standard video. Though in hindsight this could be due to ineffective application, as it was a tester. So we wanted to explore using 360 video/photos as an immersive experience, with interactions.

To do this we needed to create interactivity and have an immersive way for students to experience the packages. We set our sights on wireless headsets for ease of use, which can be used online and offline, so we waited for the right device to come along. Which we left to the last minute, admittedly, as we heard about the Occulus Go coming out in May/June 2018.

In the meantime this amazing thing happened, in early 2018 with the up and coming T-levels, which as a college we are involved with (find out more here) we realised we’d like to work with Industry to get the best for the students. As well as get them involved in something a bit different with the Virtual Reality. However we wouldn’t be able to do this without a full time person working on the project. So we took a punt and won a bid from the AoC (Association of Colleges) funded by the ETF (Education Training Foundation) to help fund a full time person to work on it. The title is ‘Using VR to enhance Land-based Skills’ and the premise is to involve employers in the curriculum, and the VR offered a new take of how to involve them for the up and coming T-levels. This meant that we could widen the scope through the areas involved to be Agriculture, Equine and Sportsturf, rather than just one class from one area as there is a full time person working on it to co-ordinate. Keep your eyes peeled for the full report on that and the impact in March 2019 from the OTLA Phase 3 site.

As there was a lot going on pre-project I thought it’d be good to share everything learnt about VR so far as a checklist you can apply to your own institutes:

Keep it simple: 

Software: 

  • Think of your audience – who will be using it? Tutors, students an e-learning team?
  • What technical skills will they need?
  • Is it a simple UI (end user and creator)?
  • Can it be used across different devices?

Headset/Devices: 

  • Does it need to be wireless? – Most places seem to have fallen into a trap of being stuck with wires when they needed wireless devices.
  • Does it work offline?
  • What is it powering?
  • Is it compatible with your institutes systems? Does it need to be?
  • Can it be used via an app?

 

Cost Effective:

  • Don’t go for the most expensive – this might not be the best for your institute! (Gaming kit is brilliant, but might not work for you)
  • Will it last?
  • Does it do what you want?

 

Plan it:

  • How will it be used? (student, staff, e-learning team)
  • Strategy for the implementation (Practically)
  • Strategy for the implementation (Pedagogy)
  • Consolidated approach

 

Collaborate: 

  • Talk to peers – sharing best practice with others is key – don’t be scared to share.
  • Consolidate information from other projects you may have run (both teaching/learning and technical based) There is a wealth of information which you may not realise relates but does!

 

For most general FE Colleges or HE institutes this may already be second nature, but as a Land-based FE and HE institute which does not have an IT or media lead curriculum, this has been a massive breakthrough.

~ LP

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