England has the fastest growing market in Europe when it comes to AR and VR - worth around £300m annually. But with interest highest among teenagers, how is higher education capitalizing on the mushrooming interest? And what is its’ potential for making learning more engaging?
Q: What potential does VR hold for everyday interaction with student learning?
“VR has great potential for teaching and learning because it gives users a very immersive experiential learning environment. Since VR allows the use of multiple senses (touch, sound, sight), it improves the activeness and mental alertness of both students and educators.
“In the Faculty of Business and Law, VR has been used to improve students’ communication and interview skills with the opportunity to practise public speaking with avatars and receive instant feedback. In Pharmacy, students have been able to do virtual placements through VR. They can be placed in a hospital or community pharmacy, diagnosing patients through role-plays.”
Q: How have you two personally used VR in your T&L at LJMU and how do you assess its’ impact?
AL: “With Law students, we played a VR game and they were immersed in the Metaverse through an app. I explained the intellectual property rights such as trademarks and copyrights arising from this and received instant feedback after the session. They students really enjoyed it and it helped them to understand the topics better.”
PW: “Within the Business School it has been used by HR students to simulate issues they are likely to face at work and also in our Strategy modules to provide a more realistic decision making experience.”
Q: Is there a particular subject area where immersive experiences might be particularly effective?
“VR is effective in any learning or training environment. Interacting with avatars is less intimidating than real customers or patient, so users feel less embarrassed about making mistakes. They also obtain real-time feedback. Immersive experiences is also very effective with environments which are dangerous to be in (earthquakes, fires…etc.) or hard to access (Antartica). In addition using VR ensures that all participants are fully focussed, as they are immersed in the process, they are not distracted by phones, friends or any external influences.”
Q: You recently hosted a network of European universities to discuss all this. How was that?
“It was the first VR workshop of the European Immersive Learning Network (EILN), which currently comprises LJMU, SKEMA Business School, France and the University of Siena, Italy. And is dedicated to the exploration of the potential of immersive learning approaches within Higher Education and beyond. It included academics, learning development officers and industry experts and featured colleagues from LJMU’s Faculties of Health, Arts Professional and Social Studies and Business & Law to showcase their use of virtual reality.”
Q: How embedded is VR in UK HEIs? Are we still at the experimental stage?
“Compared to SKEMA Business School in France and the University of Siena, Italy, we think that UK HEIs are only starting to embed VR. VR is also more widely adopted in medical and science subjects. The fusion of generative artificial intelligence such as ChatGPT with avatars in VR is going to be popular in higher education. Talking avatars in VR applications will really enhance the user’s learning and research experience.”
Q: What are the obstacles to its greater use and how do you think those can be overcome?
“The cost of headsets and immersive laboratories can be high. Our faculty - Business and Law - has invested in 30 headsets and we have plans to invest more. We need to be mindful of not using applications for too long to avoid dizziness or other health related problems. It is also vital for there to be a coherent strategy for VR, it should be integral to the learning experience rather than an ‘add on’.”