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Published February 7, 2020 | Multidisciplinary

Exploring Extended Reality with an Innovation Kit for Teachers at Vanier College

On January 29th, 2020, Vanier College held a launch event for their Teacher’s Innovation and Exploration Kit (TIEK) which allows teachers to try Augmented Reality (AR), Mixed Reality (MR), Virtual Reality (VR) and other recent technologies to explore their pedagogical potential. Just prior to the launch, I spoke with Patti Kingsmill, the Pedagogical Counsellor at Vanier who is spearheading this initiative with financial support through the ministry’s Digital Action Plan.

Q. Could you tell us about the genesis of the TIEK project ?

Patti Kingsmill (PK): With the arrival of the Digital Action Plan, the Vanier administration was looking at ways to assist teachers with the process of understanding new technologies through exploring innovative pedagogical strategies and techniques.

Most CEGEPs are just beginning to explore how XR can be used in teaching and I have been in touch with a few CEGEPs that have begun this process, including Cégep Edouard-Montpetit’s Espace Moebius [in French]. Even though the technology is rapidly evolving, Vanier decided to invest now so that we are prepared for the next generation of tools. The TIEK was conceived to allow us to look at low-end options (ex. cell phones) and higher end options (ex. Oculus) so that we can explore a variety of possible deployments from the very affordable to those that require more financial investment. 

According to Vanier College’s PSI website, the Teacher’s Innovation Exploration Kit features a wide range of software applications and the following equipment:
  • 4 Smartphones to power AR and VR apps
  • 4 Merge Goggles 360 VR for use with smartphones
  • 4 Merge Cubes (an AR object that allows one to manipulate digital objects)
  • 3 Oculus Go headsets
  • 1 Oculus Quest standalone VR headset
  • 1 Oculus Rift VR tethered headset (the most powerful of the 3 Oculus headsets, designed to give teachers a sense of what will be possible once stand-alone headsets like Go and Quest are more powerful)
  • 1 Dell gaming computer (for use with the Oculus Rift and for editing audio and 360 video files)
  • 1 iPad for AR
  • 1 Ricoh Theta 360 camera for filming AR and VR content
  • 1 Blue Yeti microphone for recording audio (e.g., podcasting, audio for AR and VR content, etc.)
  • 1 Hue HD USB document camera (classroom document camera that can do stop-action filming)

Q. What are your objectives for the project?

PK: At this stage we want to expose teachers to the potential of extended reality and start them on an exploratory journey on which they consider how they might incorporate innovations in the classroom with the goal of increasing student learning and engagement.

We would also like teachers to investigate innovative ways to meet our students where they are and so increase attention and focus. We are hoping these technologies will help us to address these factors in a way that has not been possible through traditional means of teaching.

Our intention is to create a virtual community of practice at Vanier for teachers on Microsoft Teams. We also hope to hold workshops, brown bag lunches, and more events like the TIEK launch where groups of teachers can explore the TIEK together with our support (we will hopefully have student volunteers helping us out). For those using the TIEK technologies, we hope to make some connections across the disciplines and have some cross-pollination. We are also inviting teachers to propose devices and apps they would like added to the TIEK. The College wants to continue to invest in its development and we want that investment to be informed by our faculty and staff.

Manipulating a Merge cube with a tablet in an augmented reality application (Courtesy: Vanier PSI)

Q. Who has access to the equipment and how are you managing reservations?

PK: The TIEK launch on January 29th 2020 is taking place in Vanier’s STEM Centre which is home to the TIEK. We are expecting over 45 teachers and staff at the event. We will have students demonstrating to teachers how these devices work. The students seem super enthusiastic and we are pretty sure teachers will appreciate seeing how students use these technologies.

We are fortunate to have a technician available 3 days a week to help staff learn how to use the devices and apps, and learn about XR creation. Teachers can drop in or make appointments to try the TIEK out on those days. For the moment, the technician is also taking care of the equipment loans, but the library will eventually be managing this.

The TIEK has a variety of equipment beyond AR/VR/XR. We have a YETI microphone so that students and teachers can experiment with making their own podcasts. Teachers and staff now have access to a 360 degree high definition camera and a powerful gaming computer that can handle the editing software for 360 videos taken by this camera. We are hoping that teachers co-explore these technologies with students. Our upcoming Science Week in March 2020 will be a chance for the students to try out the devices.

Q. Who has used the TIEK or expressed interest?

PK: I have presented to 2 out of 3 faculties and several departments. I will continue to give presentations. We've also been advertising it on our Facebook group and in Vanier's weekly Intercom newsletter.

As we know, it is a challenge for teachers to find time to access, explore and experiment with new technologies in addition to their regular duties. Having spoken to several teachers, I perceive that many are excited about the possibilities that these new tools offer. To give them a chance, Vanier will be offering Development Support Opportunities (release time) in 2020 allow faculty to research how these technologies can be used in their disciplines and those of their faculty members and also to give them time to experiment in their classrooms.

Teachers from General Education, the Faculty of Arts and Business and the Faculty of Science and Technology have already expressed interest. One teacher in Architectural Technology has spent a semester doing research on how these technologies could enhance the teaching of courses in the program.

With the wealth of apps for the arts, science, technologies and social sciences, there is a lot of potential. For example, VR allows users to go inside of a cell to see how it operates, something that could help biology students to engage with the material and gain a deeper understanding of it. Entering into an immersive narrative, like Notes on Blindness, built around the recordings of a professor chronicling what it was like to slowly go blind, help students develop empathy. Or perhaps you might like to attend a volcano eruption in Pompeii! All of these are possible with immersive technologies.

The TIEK launch event on January 29th, 2020 was well attended by teachers and staff (Courtesy: Vanier PSI)

Q. What type of benefits do you perceive you will obtain from the exploration of this technology?

PK: We are hoping that this experimentation will inspire teachers and help them to develop a vision for the use of innovative technologies that are available to them. We have removed a barrier to the technology by making it readily available in the college at no cost to the faculty. We hope teachers will explore cutting edge technologies and begin developing sound pedagogical uses for them in the classroom. As an example, architectural firms are already using VR as part of their design process. Our challenge is to maximize its pedagogical value and prepare students for the digital age beyond the classroom.

Some of the technologies included in the TIEK include the Oculus Rift, 3D printers and Merge cuges (Courtesy: Vanier PSI)

Looking forward

In the future, the Pedagogical Support and Innovation service at Vanier will invite teachers and staff to propose investments for larger scale use of these technologies to support student learning. A balance between pedagogical needs, feasibility and costs to implement on a larger scale will need to be analysed. Patti assures me that the final decision will also be influenced by looking at best practices for pedagogical use, pedagogical merit of the technologies and a thorough literature review. She is currently curating a list of articles on AR/VR/XR.

While Vanier continues its exploration, Patti would love to hear about the experiences and findings from other colleges who are using XR!

Is your college experimenting with augmented or virtual reality? Please share your experience in the comments area below.

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