Release Date: August 23, 2018
BUFFALO, N.Y. — Anyone with an internet connection can attend college from home. Yet a common complaint about online learning is that it lacks the feel of a physical classroom.
That’s starting to change.
The University at Buffalo and its partners recently demonstrated how to integrate virtual reality (VR) into a massive open online course (MOOC) focusing on collaborative robot safety.
Organizers say the successful experiment — launched in July at the Serious Play conference in Buffalo using the Open edX platform — could be a blueprint for colleges and universities looking to implement VR and other innovations into their online course offerings.
“Virtual reality is rapidly advancing, enabling us to develop computer-generated learning environments that closely mimic the real world. In turn, students can interact with these environments in real-time, offering a richer educational experience,” says Timothy Leyh, executive director of The Center for Industrial Effectiveness (TCIE) at UB, which spearheaded the effort.
UB partners in the project include the School of Engineering and Applied Sciences, the College of Arts and Sciences, the Center for Educational Innovation, and UB Information Technology. Additional partners include Buffalo-based Crosswater Digital Media, New York City-based IBL Education and Florida-based Docola.
Other universities, such as Harvard, have been working to incorporate virtual reality into MOOCs. However, this approach to online learning is still in its infancy, which led UB and its partners to develop their own strategy for applying the technology.
The UB team is working to deliver virtual reality on a massive scale that includes built-in feedback for students and faculty, says Lisa Stephens, PhD, assistant dean of digital education in UB’s School of Engineering and Applied Sciences.
“This offers a new take on the old saying, ‘see one, do one, teach one.’ A student can point and click to manipulate virtual elements and practice applied learning, which is particularly useful for high-risk environments. With this educational innovation, learners can practice in a safe environment, and the Docola system can harvest data from the virtual reality experience to help faculty assess whether they are properly and productively engaging with the VR-enabled tasks,” she says.
Multiple units at UB are collaborating to launch an array of continuing education classes, and this VR test became part of that initiative.
“Fortunately, we were already working with IBL Education to help with the rollout, and when Crosswater Digital Media and Docola agreed to help with the pilot, we had the perfect expertise to realize this vision,” said Jay Stockslader, director of continuing education for UB’s College of Arts and Sciences.
“The demonstration with collaborative robots captured in high-quality, 360-degree video by Crosswater was a great success. Imagine universities, companies and other organizations having the ability to train people how to work with robots in a realistic yet safe environment. People will already have vast experience before walking on to the job site,” adds Stephens.
UB plans to launch a full collaborative robot safety course, without VR, on Sept. 4 on the Coursera learning platform. UB is continuing to explore how to incorporate VR into forthcoming MOOCs.