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Project Investigators: Dennis Del Favero, Claude Sammut, Martin Van Kranendonk, Sarah Kenderdine, Carol Oliver, Andrew Yip, Nadine Marcus, Nalini Pather, Tara Djokic
Project Title: Interactive virtual environments for next generation student experiences: new frameworks for immersive pedagogy
Immersive Systems Engineers: Alex Ong, Nicola Best, Som Guan
Virtual Fields is a new cross-platform interactive virtual environment (IVE) engineered at the University of New South Wales and deployed in 360 degree 3D theatre and online. It enables students and teachers to immerse themselves in challenging real-world scenarios, to remotely connect across separate locations and technological platforms, to explore and navigate through diverse data supported by an intelligent assistant, as well as to upload their own data into a shared system without knowledge of coding or the need for a separate commissioned programmer.
Integrated physical and virtual learning experiences in interactive virtual environments, supported by virtual reality technologies, are increasingly used in teaching practices and are now essential to many disciplines. They provide a mode of learning that dynamically immerses students in multi-dimensional experiences that are many times more powerful than those afforded by conventional classroom settings.
The next generation of IVEs, as demonstrated in this project, are built as cross-platform Intelligent Immersive Environments that employ intelligent systems in which user navigation and interaction is guided by machine learning algorithms and gamified navigational and interactive design.
One of the important goals in designing Virtual Fields was to create meaningful learning experiences that are grounded in an IVE that is controlled via gestures and interactions with the technology in real time, in order to support and enhance learning. Virtual Fields not only develops the potential for IVEs to extend representations of real world environments with visual and auditory feedback – thus giving student access to learning opportunities that would not otherwise be available to them – but addresses practical industry challenges by lowering the current intimidating barriers to immersive content creation.
The intention of the system is that new immersive learning environments can be created by course designers with minimal assistance from software experts, using data capture methods that form standard practice in multiple discipline research workflows.
Content modules developed using Virtual Fields were made available to students at the University of New South Wales in 2016 and 2017 in three discipline areas: Medicine, Astrobiology and Cultural Heritage, with great success. This process was used to evaluate the system, which was refined through feedback obtained from the studies as well as from workshops run for new instructors.