Mixed Reality in the Classroom

By Sasha Nikolic, Lecturer, Engineering Education (University of Wollongong)

Pokémon Go is probably the game that put mixed reality on the map with millions of people around the world chasing little graphical creatures around their neighbourhood with their phones. However, this concept is not new and most people would have seen this during a sports telecast with lots of animations mixed on to the screen; these are examples of augmented reality.

Another form of mixed reality is when you bring the real into a virtual space, known as augmented virtuality. I have been leading a team using this form of technology to bring students across multiple campuses together with industry representatives and other subject-matter experts. The technology is similar to Second Life in which users are represented by a floating avatar representing the video captured by a webcam instead of being represented by an animated character.

An example of one of our projects can be seen in the video below.

Our use of this technology centered on:

  1. Providing offshore-enrolled students equal or comparable learning experiences to locally enrolled students at the University’s main campus in Wollongong and
  2. Providing relevant and authentic learning opportunities for all students through consultation and networking with industry representatives and other subject-matter experts who are unable to commit to attending on-campus events and activities in person. This is a problem with many regional campuses.

Our team was attracted to this technology due to blending the best capabilities of other existing 2D and 3D technologies. The use of real video in combination with directional audio that is sensitive to users’ relative positions offers more fluid and natural interactions than are possible with videoconferencing or virtual worlds alone, by mimicking how groups of people move about, congregate, and converse in physical spaces.

Our major case studies with the technology have included:

  • Virtual Entrepreneurial Pitches (think Shark Tank with a global mixture of sharks)
  • Virtual Design Team Meetings (online group meetings)
  • Virtual Careers Expo (exposing our students to alumni from around the world)
  • Synchronous Hybrid Tutorial Delivery (an academic located in Wollongong teaching face to face with students located in Singapore and Malaysia).

During implementation we faced many obstacles, but overall our case studies were successful with strong feedback received from students and industry and some positive learning outcomes recorded.

We have created a website that hosts details of our findings for others to build upon. We also invite others exploring other similar technologies to add to the site.

Our work won one of the two ASCILITE Innovation Awards in 2016. As a result we will be presenting this work at ASCILITE this year in Toowoomba. Therefore, if you would like to know more please come along. I look forward to meeting you there.

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