JISC - the body which advises FE/HE on the use of technology has issued an important new report on Learning and Teaching Reimagined.
"The flagship learning and teaching reimagined report is the result of a five-month higher education initiative to understand the response to COVID-19 and explore the future of digital learning and teaching. Learning and teaching reimagined, with the support of its advisory board, and more than 1,000 HE participants, provides university leaders with inspiration on what the future might hold, guidance on how to get there and practical tools to develop your plans."
As a member of JISC's Virtual Reality Framework we were fascinated to see what the report has to say about immersive learning technologies.
The report identifies 4 possible future scenarios - more to drive discussion than as future options:
- A very familiar learning experience on campus, for students who have already adapted to a socially-distanced world. Important and distinctive here is institutional resilience is the sole driver for use of technology-enhanced learning and teaching, the ability to adapt to significant change and move operations fully online as and when required. Learning and teaching is predominantly face to face and, as such, is far less reliant on technology-enhanced learning.
- Technology-enhanced learning supplements a ‘traditional’, lecture-led, synchronous learning and teaching experience. It feels familiar to students, while offering a broader range of learning opportunities. Significantly it offers confidence in the resilience of the university experience. Leaders are increasingly aware of the benefits of technology-enhanced learning and recognise the efficiencies gained from supplementing their preferred campus-based models.
- A ‘step change’ in the higher education offering. Students experience flexibility and convenience of learning, increasing enabling adaptive and self-directed learning, with more active learning opportunities. Leaders are increasingly fluent in technology-enhanced learning and appreciative of the opportunities to adapt their offering to reach wider range of markets. Investment has begun to improve the quality and coherence of the learning and teaching experience, increasingly appealing for a diverse student population with a more inclusive and accessible experience.
- Students embrace the fully-online experience, seeking greater flexibility and an increasingly personalised learning experience. With most higher education providers adapting and enhancing their technology-enhanced learning and teaching experience in some way, the imperative for leaders and staff in this scenario is to demonstrate the high quality, unique nature of their fully online offering.
Their "primers" for senior leaders on topics such as digital learning and innovation mention no technologies specifically, but their case studies seem more to be about good 2D VLE implementations and blended learning (thought that was a given) than more innovative approaches, such as immersive 3D, despite such technology being used in HE learning for almost 15 years now! The report has one case study which includes VR - and that is 360degree video in surgical training.
"Mixed Reality" fares slightly better with 3 mentions (two the same). There is also mention of "Virtual Worlds" (twice, duplicates), but not definition of what they mean - so could just infer VLEs. The phrases "In 2030 UK higher education learning and teaching is regarded as world class because it is
attractive to all students, seamlessly spans the physical and virtual worlds and is of the highest
academic quality" and "Students move fluidly across physical, digital and social experiences. The integration of mixed reality technologies strengthens the strong sense of university identity and community, no matter how students choose to participate and learn." are nicely aspirational but could mean anything and the report gives no hint as to how they might be achieved - or even really paints a picture of what they might mean. The closest is "We also do field trips, using virtual reality and 3-D
walkthroughs, to places I’d never be able to go otherwise" - which seems a bit 2020 (at least for some) not 2030.
Interestingly the report does have a bit more to say/paint around the idea of students having an "AI" learning guide/coach to help them with their learning, guide them to things they need to know, and possibly support them with alternate routes/methods when they struggle - time to dust off our Virtual Tutor work!
Potentially confusingly the report also links to QAAs Building a Taxonomy for Digital Learning which described immersive digital learning as an "Immersive digital engagement/experience where digital learning and teaching activities are designed by a provider as the only way in which students will engage, both with the programme and with each other. Students will be required to engage with all the digital activities and will not be offered the opportunity to engage with learning and teaching activities onsite at the provider." - so more like language learning by immersion than the use of any immersive technology. The same document has a glossary listing for AR, but none at all for VR!
So all in all it does seem a bit of a business as usual report. Whilst the scenarios are interesting there is very little in there that might encourage educational leaders to look at the potential of immersive 3D/VR - and indeed hardly anything to suggest to them that it might exist. Make better use of your VLE seems the bottom line to me!
I'd originally put a pic of a learner using a VR headset at the top of this post, but the new image seems more appropriate somehow!
If you want to be excited by what Learning and Teaching Reimagined might be. perhaps you'd be better offer reading Chapter 4 of Ready Player One?
“During our world history lesson that morning, Mr. Avenovich loaded up a standalone simulation so that our class could witness the discovery of King Tut's tomb by archaeologists in Egypt in AD 1922. The day before, we visited the same spot in 1334 BC and had seen Tutankhamen's empire in all its glory. In my next class, biology, we traveled through a human heart and watched it pumping from the inside just like in that old movie Fantastic Voyage. In art class, we toured the Louvre while all of our avatars wore silly berets. In my astronomy class, we visited each of Jupiter's moons. We stood on the volcanic surface of Io while our teacher explained how the moon has originally formed. As our teacher spoke to us, Jupiter loomed behind her, filling half the sky. It's Great Red Spot, turning slowly just over her left shoulder.”
You can download a copy of the report from https://www.jisc.ac.uk/learning-and-teaching-reimagined
Of course it's pretty easy to criticise, so let's be a bit more constructive. What would my vision of a 2030s learning, and specifically immersive 3D learning, look like:
Perhaps it's time to write another White Paper?
- Based on open-source technologies, probably WebGL/OpenXR and their descendants
- Web-delivered, no downloads
- Every experience available on desktop/laptop, smartphone/tablet or VR headset, albeit tweaked for each platform, and primarily a student choice as to which to use
- A consistent identity system (like OpenID/OpenAvatar) across experiences, so you don't need a different account for each one
- Consistent interfacing to VLEs/LMSs, e.g. via xAPI to manage student access and analytics
- A way for teachers, tutors, and students to author their own content, and with the training to do so and the supporting pedagogy to design it well
- Each school/tutor/student/subject can have its own "home space" where creativity and social interaction is encouraged
- Exercises authored/encoded in a semantic way so accessible versions can be easily generated (e.g. a sound world for a student with visual impairment), and to more readily generate lesson variations (eg for learning and assessment) for the same location/props
- A way of publishing experiences/exercises/assets to others, with IP control, eventually providing asset and exercises sets that cover the entire curriculum, and tutor/student developed
- Some flagship centralised resources, such as a complete virtual hospital
- A way of linking content together - portals from one experience to another, so the entire system can run on a federated system of servers
- The ability to have experiences as single or multi-user, to cope with asynchronous and synchronous learning and differing student needs
2030 is only 9 years away, but most of this is do'able now if we set our minds to it.