Teaching in Virtual Reality Worlds

Hello, my name is Professor Gary Burnett. This is a short presentation outlining five top tips on how to teach in virtual worlds, based on my successful experience at the University of Nottingham with engineering and computer science students, teaching them all about reality virtual from virtual reality. Alright, let’s get started.

So first tip: A great benefit of virtual worlds in education is the increased ability to contextualize student learning. So, for example, we learn how to design future autonomous vehicles. Next, let’s walk through a portal to immerse ourselves in a futuristic city, discuss engineering design issues in the context that best suits the subject to encourage greater creativity in our students. Or we learn what it means to climb Everest, and go on a virtual tour taking in key landmarks like this educator did.

Second tip: immersive virtual reality allows you to use 3D in a more attractive way compared to the real world. So we can simulate a jet engine, which would clearly be difficult, if not impossible, to do in a real classroom, and then scale it, see it from different angles, maybe even walk into it. This view from different angles and this worldwide agency could be very important for improved learning.

3D images and videos can also be very powerful, allowing students to literally step inside and experience. Again, entering a 360 video of me in a driving simulator, a virtual world within a virtual world.

This one, give your students appropriate levels of freedom. So yeah, it’s really interesting from our experiences. Students can potentially defy the laws of physics and fly and walk through objects. In some situations, this can be very relevant to student learning.

Easy when inspecting an object from the inside, but universal access to these superpowers can also distract both the teacher and all of the students. For example, if you want all your students, like the bottom left here, to be in a fixed position to watch a presentation, you don’t want them all flying around and distracting you and getting in each other’s way. But sometimes you might want them to fly, so they can efficiently pick up items placed in the world and take them somewhere else.

Tip Four, unlike most real-world classrooms, a virtual teaching space can be available 24/7 for your students. So not just in slots. In fact, it could be available far beyond your course flow, such as serving as a demonstration of your students’ work.

It can also be edited, by you or the students, to be more relevant to what is covered that week and to encourage students to learn throughout the week with assignments or for students to gain a sense of appropriation of space. So we can see here at the bottom left a demonstration dome with a set of portals to virtual worlds created by my students, and at the top right, selfies taken by my students pinned on a board throughout the semester.

And finally, tip five, the most important thing. Don’t just go back over everything you do when teaching in the real world. It’s very easy to do, but you have to be creative. You have to think about what you can do in a virtual world that you can’t do in the real world.

Yeah, for example, you know, create a robo-taxi vehicle, like we did in some of our classes; allow students to prototype interfaces for the future; or allowing students to become wheelchair avatars so they can empathize with different types of users. It’s really important for our design students to think about the implications of their design for whether their users can reach the controls or see the screens.

So obviously you might want to leverage some aspects of teaching in the real world, you know, I have 2D slides on a screen here. It’s effective and students understand what it might mean, but it’s clear there’s potential for much more magical teaching in virtual worlds.

OK, thanks for listening to me, I’m leaving. See you soon then. Goodbye.

Gary Burnett is a professor in the Faculty of Engineering at the University of Nottingham.

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