Author: Laura Ward – E-learning Developer in the Centre for Collaborative Learning at the University of Central Lancashire
The expression ‘patience is a virtue’ has never rung as true as the wait for the Immersive Learning Lab.
As an elearning team we had many discussions of creating a place of teaching and learning, where immersive learning was threaded through curricula and curriculum development (this was back in early 2020, I was new to my eLearning role at UCLan then, but immersive learning has been a passion of mine for a while). The idea of a safe space for tutors to pilot new tech, usually classified as ‘Learning labs’ are nothing new, but the idea of having an Immersive Learning space based on digital immersive pedagogy open to the whole university, not specific to one faculty, and with an angle on practical application and development is new to UCLan.
What is immersive learning?
It uses mixed reality to enhance the student’s learning experience through total or partial immersion using an artificial or simulated environment. Mixed reality itself is a sliding scale and for our Immersive Learning Lab we wanted to encompass as many of the different aspects and levels of immersion as we could.
For this vision was to create this space on a budget, while making it scalable, pragmatic and future thinking, with space to grow in the future. A place where we (the elearning team) could create UCLan bespoke immersive teaching and learning resources, co-created with academic staff from all areas of the university, with these resources being used with students to enhance the learning experience. In addition, as a by-product of this, generating case study based research from the real life, practically applied immersive teaching and learning at the university. It would also lead to digital disruptive learning in a safe space and deepening the students learning through immersive experiences, enhancing students’ overall university experience.
First though we needed a room as space for this to happen in, and this is where patience became a well earned virtue.
After discussions the library very generously gave us Lib003 on the bottom floor. It was a room that had been used as a quick storage solution in the confusion of the pandemic and many room reshuffles, housing unused furniture, mountains of booklets, outdated tech and a graveyard for used and unwanted paper activities. To say it was hard to visualise how this space would become a place for innovation in immersive learning is an understatement, but we were (and still are) thankful of having a space to start the journey.
In amongst the room’s untamed landscape there were a few tables and chairs used for drop-in sessions for students, again a necessary practicality due to the pandemic while the new student building was being finished. This meant that before we could start with the practical side of transforming the room from a dumping ground to an immersive learning lab we had to wait a little bit longer until the new build was finished, so that the students had an uninterrupted space to go to for one-to-ones for their support.
And so we waited…
While patiently waiting, as a team we utilised the time by making sure we were acquiring the suitable technology, with the correct specifications to allow for long lived tech and tech development, needed in the meantime (VR headsets, HoloLens etc).
When the room became available (around end of August/beginning of September 2021) the first thing that we did was to sort through the furniture and technology already there and identify which items needed to go. It was oddly therapeutic, though patience is a virtue it is a good feeling to get started on a project and see tangible progression even if it is some sticky notes on boxes and depletion of unwanted things, and at the end of the day (in reality at the end of a few weeks/months) we only kept the couch, 2 tables, 1 small coffee table and 8 red chairs. It is an honest shame I didn’t get a picture of the room beforehand, the room glow up would have been an amazing thing to show.
When everything was removed the potential of the room became apparent, and the vision became clearer. The floor space is large and being on the bottom floor of the library allows for accessibility through ease of access. The size also allows for individuals and groups using headsets of up to 5 individuals to safely participate at once while having others in the space as well, and with minimal furniture allows for meetings and demonstrations of the immersive tech and space for testing new developments through a flexible environment. It also permits for any further developments and technology needs as the space evolves over time.
All in all it’s taken months, even a year as we’re now in 2021 (since the pandemic I swear time is a weird soup rather than a straightforward timeline), and we are just settling into the Immersive Learning Lab. At this point I can happily say the space is ready for immersive learning and development through flexibility of the room (lots of floor space), 2 in situ developers (Laura Ridings and myself), and technology ready to use with students and tutors with bespoke immersive learning packages to follow.
So Patience really is a virtue…
Patience has been a virtue from the beginning of this journey, but I’m definitely ready to let my keenness take over and jump into developing immersive learning experiences and look forward to working with our digital disruptor tutors Sam Pywell and Andy Sprake in our initial packages. And if you ever find yourself wondering if immersive learning is something you’d be interested in, get in touch with myself or Laura Ridings at the Immersive Learning Lab as we can advise and develop these resources with you!