As a senior product development manager in the Learning Innovation team at the Open University, my role is to work with colleagues to enhance teaching and learning through developing new products (i.e. tools and platforms) and supporting processes.

Earlier this year, I received a UCISA bursary enabling me to attend Realities 360. It bills itself as a hands-on event for early adopters and learning technologists to investigate first-hand Augmented Reality (AR), Virtual Reality (VR) and other simulations for learning which fall under the umbrella term of Extended Reality (XR).

What’s the reality with Virtual Reality?

Here are my reflections from Realities360:

1. What’s the problem VR can solve?

VR technology is still emergent. So, how do we use this new technology to do something existing tools, tech and media don’t already enable without risk of being accused of ‘technology drive’ (as opposed to ‘pedagogy driven’) solutions. My personal take is that neither are desirable and, in fact, they need to me mutually supportive which leads nicely on to the following…

2. Human-centred design

Find your problem. Opt for a user centric approach. IDEO have a design kit to get you started developing empathy with users and gain better insights into their needs/context. If your product has value to your users, they’re more likely to adopt it.

3. Start small, pilot, evaluate and (re)iterate

It’s easy to be critical of emergent technologies. Best practice hasn’t emerged so we’re all learning: start small, learn and then (re)iterate.

4. ‘Just because you can, doesn’t mean you should’

This is something that has been said within our team but something Linas Mockus and Joseph Scott pointed out twice in their presentation entitled ‘Is online education ready for VR and 360 video’. Linas and Joseph are (Instructional Designers at Penn State World Campus, which is Penn State’s online campus) and plan to make their research findings public. In the meantime, you might want to take a look at the news pages of Penn State’s website.

Higher education has been slow to adopt VR but there seemed to be plenty of like minded colleagues from higher education in this session. At present, AR/VR simulation conferences seem to have a bias towards the training sector but there’s an obvious need for mechanisms for educators to share practice and learn from each other.

5. xAPI might be your new best friend

VR experiences generate a lot of data as they’re computer mediated. Some of this is structured data, such as responses to in-experience questions however, there’s also unstructured data, such as what users are looking at, determining the meaning of their responses (e.g. sentiment analysis) etc. The ‘x’ in xAPI is short for “experience,” and gives a deeper level of behavioural insight taking things that aren’t structured and giving them structure, e.g. by recording who did what, what was done, what it was done to (i.e. an object) and a host of contextual data.

xAPI is well worth considering to get a better insight into what your learners are doing and gauge that learning has taken place by designing in activities/tasks that you set out to monitor. This will improve the experience and reduce reliance on those in-experience questions which I’ve seen lots of over the past few days.

Thanks UCISA for the bursary enabling me to attend Realities360. During my time here, I’ve met colleagues travelling from as far away as South Africa who, like me, haven’t found conferences closer to home that fit the bill.