Friday, 2 March 2018

VR Education- A research Update

I am Heidi Singleton, a BU PGR with CEL.  I joined in September 2017 and am at the Initial Review stage of my PhD.  My supervisors are Professor Debbie Holley, Dr Jaqueline Priego and Dr Liz Falconer.  Here is a summary of my research so far…
My PhD is researching…
-how to design and operationalise a flipped learning framework using VR and other low-cost tools and evaluate the learning potential for sustainable and scalable student learning
– how VR technologies can be harnessed in a lecture theatre setting with 150 nursing students to enable a better grasp of complex concepts (in this case DKA, HSS and hypoglycaemia- all acute emergencies of diabetes- definitions at end of post)

I am researching this because… 
-students cannot always be training on medical wards or other settings relevant to their learning
– when they learn in the classroom, complex concepts can be difficult for students to understand and retain
-they pay for their course and expect engaging and innovative learning
-the incidence of diabetes is rising, so nurses must be prepared to spot symptoms and know treatment choices

Theory tells me that…
-VR aligns well with situated learning- through which, connections between complex real-world situations and classroom experiences can be developed
– the context with VR learning scenario is crucial.  The specific features of VR contextual learning have brought the educational potential that the traditional classroom would never have

What I have found so far…
– rapid evolution of VR technologies has not been accompanied by the appraisal of their effectiveness for student-centred learning
– research indicating strong student engagement, but often relying on self-report for learning outcomes
– VR technology has not yet become embedded into curricula; there remains a lack of clarity concerning the underpinning theories and instructional design aspects

The gaps seem to be …
-20th Century learning theories continue to prevail (yet there are more suitable 21st Century approaches e.g. Connectivism and Heutagogy)
-most evaluation of VR learning relies upon self-report
-few studies used a control or pre-testing
-using VR in classroom settings in scalable and sustainable ways

What I will do…
-next step is to develop the methodology and method
-explore VR technology, as the characteristics or VR seem to lend themselves better to this project than AR (see end for definitions of both)
-build VR app with support from our Computing Faculty or funding from a Diabetes charity
-help to write the new diabetes curriculum with the course leader (Dr Janet James and a Nurse Specialist from RBCH), embedding VR technology, and using Bloom’s Taxonomy and situated and contextual learning theories (I have observed their traditional diabetes inputs this year as a starting point)
-test the pilot VR app with CEL colleagues and RBCH nurses
-implement and evaluate the innovation with nursing students

Expected Impact…
– the model generated by this project will be transferable to different learning contexts for example: nursing homes, hospitals and the community as well as lectures for other disciplines (they will be able to use their own virtual case studies)

-trainee nurses should have a better understanding of DKS/HSS and hypoglycaemia through using VR case studies- this should aid patient care

I will present my research as a poster at this year’s PGR Conference, next Wednesday at BU.
Please feel free to contact me if you have any questions.
You can follow me at @blueprintteacher and CEL at @cel_bu

-is a computer-generated simulation or a replacement of one’s environment.  For example, you put on a headset like Oculus Rift, it blocks out your world view and substitutes a digital world that is designed to fool your senses.  VR tends to be completely immersive with no real-world stimuli effecting the experience.

-its main purpose isn’t to cut out the real world and transport you to another one.  Rather it is to be a digital addition to your real world with a set of virtual objects in. When a person’s real environment is supplemented or augmented with computer generated images, usually motioned tracked; then that’s augmented reality (e.g. Pokemon go, snapchat, Hololens etc).  Augment is from the latin word “Augere” to increase or add.  Hence, augmented technology is adding to our existing reality.

Consistently high blood glucose levels can lead to a condition called diabetic ketoacidosis (DKA). This happens when a severe lack of insulin means the body cannot use glucose for energy, and the body starts to break down other body tissue as an alternative energy source. Ketones are the by-product of this process. Ketones are poisonous chemicals which build up and, if left unchecked, will cause the body to become acidic – hence the name ‘acidosis’.
Hyperosmolar Hyperglycaemic State occurs in people with Type 2 diabetes who experience very high blood glucose levels (often over 40mmol/l). It can develop over a course of weeks through a combination of illness (e.g.infection) and dehydration.

occurs when blood glucose levels fall below 4 mmol/L (72mg/dL).  Whilst many of us think of diabetes as being a problem of high blood sugar levels, the medication some people with diabetes take medication that can also cause their sugar levels to go too low and this can become dangerous.

Friday, 2 February 2018

Technology Showcase

It was great to see both representatives from CEL, Psych-tech and Computing and Animation come together to demonstrate their cutting-edge technology at this weeks' Technology Showcase.  The Showcase was aimed both at staff and members of the public, in the lead up to Professor Debbie Holley’s inspirational lecture (Hashtags, Handhelds and Handbags).

Here is Professor Holley trying out Pysch-tech’s V-Red Virtual reality with a HTC Vive headset.

Pscy-tech also brought along their Tiltbrush demonstration, which is also operated using the Vive Headset along with haptic feedback handhelds.  

And their impressive 3D printer; along with some examples of models they had printed including: a small version of a human spine, a BU logo and a model of an animal skull to name but a few.

The Faculty of Computers and Animation demonstrated their expensive Augmented Reality HoloLens.  They augmented an avatar onto CEL's very cool keyboard seats.

CEL's own team demonstrated augmented reality Zappar and Aurasma codes, hundreds of Googlecard boards, the new BU drone and two Oculus Rifts (one of which was demonstrating the virtual Avebury build by Liz Falconer and her team).

Both staff and the public showed lots of interest in the technology and were able to learn more about some of it during Professor Holley's lecture.

If you would like to find out more about how staff and students are using innovative technology to enhance learning at BU, then follow the CEL team.@CEL_bu

You can follow the Showcase and Debbie's lecture using the twitter hashtag: #handhelds

Wednesday, 20 December 2017

Using Virtual Worlds for Meetings and Discussions

This Friday evening @lizfalconer and myself joined in with a virtual reality chat using the Engage platform (it is freely downloadable using Steam, though not available on Mac at present).  We were able to listen to an expert panel (one being the Vive-president of HTC vive) and join an audience of people from all over the world.  The panel discussion was followed by questions from the audience.

During the meeting, despite the distraction of a dinosaur in the meeting room and an elephant on the glass roof, Liz managed to tweet that the: “main difference between AR and VR is in AR you have to be at the physical place being augmented - in VR you can be anywhere.”

After the meeting, the host took the group into the Titanic museum room (I was amazed to see tiny people walking around on the deck of Titanic!) and onto the moon for a selfie (someone was riding on a whale at that point!).  

Liz and I also took a walk around her Avebury world together.  I particularly enjoyed the sound effects she had captured to create the world (including dangling her husband over a stream to get the water sounds)!  Other details that brought it to life included wild flowers in the meadow that were gently swaying in the wind.  

I took the opportunity to visit the World War Exhibition (which included a commentary, photos and an aeroplane flying around), swim under water and walk at the beach, all within the Engage virtual world platform.  One of my twitter contacts kindly met me in the virtual lecture theatre and showed me how to play videos etc on the big screen.  

Although the software does not work entirely smoothly at present; as a free platform Engage offers many different opportunities that can be further explored, particular for collaborative projects and meetings.  As with all technology, if it is going to be used with students, ground rules for appropriate behaviour will have to be set first.  You can put a password on the room you want to meet in so that only the people you have invited can get into the room.

If you would like to join in with the next CPD in VR session then check this website for upcoming events:

Free platforms to hold your own VR chats:
Virtual Classroom on Brightspace!
Engage downloadable from Steam:

Virtual Meetings using AltspaceVR

ALtSpaceVR is a free app that can be down loaded onto your PC or Mac.  Altspacevr have just teamed up with Microsoft and are continuing to develop the features of this app.

Once in the Altspace app you can invite colleagues from BU or around the world to join you for a virtual meeting.  There are various pre-built virtual environments within the app.

You will be able to customise your avatar (though the options are limited at present), and once in the virtual world you will be able to speak to your colleagues.  You can even take selfies (though I need to figure out how to do that!-hence the stock photos today).

If you use CEL's Rift then of course you will be able to experience the virtual environments in a more immersive way (though it worked fine on my Mac).

If you have already set up a Slack account (another downloadable app) then it is easy to assembly your team for a quick virtual meeting (perfect for teams who work across campuses).

AltspaceVR + Slack

Meet your team in virtual reality. Easily start VR Calls for your team inside Slack
To start a VR Call, just type /vrcall and AltspaceVR will generate a link you can click to enter VR.

Add to Slack

Each member will need VR hardware (Rift, Vive, or Gear VR) and AltspaceVR installed to enter VR. You can join in 2D mode from Mac or PC without VR hardware.

For help, visit

Monday, 2 October 2017

Virtual, Mixed and Augmented Reality for Dementia Care- A BU Special Interest Group Meeting

A VR/AR special interest group met this morning to explore the use of various technologies in relation to potential use for the care of Dementia patients.  The meeting was chaired by Sue Thomas (Visiting Fellow) and included two members of staff from Richmondwood Residential Care Home (Johnny and Lucy Glazer).  

Michelle using Cardboard with Xiasong
Liz Falconer and David Hunt demonstrated The Oculus Rift and Virtual Worlds (e.g. The Avebury site) on a gaming laptop.  Dr Xiaosong Yang (with Ehtzaz and his team of computer animators) brought along their expensive HoloLens.  Michelle Board demonstrated an augmented reality app called “A Walk Through with Dementia”, using google cardboard.  She explained that next week 250 students will use the app to experience how patients with the condition might feel.

Everyone was surprised at just how immersive and fun the Oculus Rift was to use.  The graphics and sound were very sharp and everyone found  that the headset was comfortable.  Some members of the group commented that to their relief they had not felt disorientated or nauseous whilst using the technology.  Once carefully set up by David -it was quick and simple to learn how to use- even for people who were not used to games consoles.  However, one thing to note is that it must be linked up to a computer that has a very powerful graphics card.   

Mara (PGR student) using Rift

After spending the morning testing the various pieces of technology and software, the group discussed possible affordances for use with dementia patients, with particular reference to the care home.  Ethical considerations were also discussed; for example, the likelihood of triggering negative and distressing emotions.

Richmonwood staff fed-back about which equipment and software could be of use in their setting.  They felt that the Oculus Rift was far more immersive (because it is VR) and in many ways more suitable for their residents.  Johnny suggested that haptic gloves might be simpler for patients to use rather than the more complicated haptic controls.

The HoloLens was very impressive for different reasons.  We experienced what it would be like to walk around an ancient Inca site in Peru.  Through the headset you could watch and listen to other visitors wandering about the site.  You could also examine objects and click on them to listen to audio explanations.  Because the HoloLens employs mixed reality as opposed to virtual you could see around the edges of the display, so therefore walk easily around the environment.  The computer is built into the headset, therefore the sense of freedom of movement was greater.  However, on this occasion the Oculus Rift was deemed more suitable for the intended user.

      Me using HoloLens with Ehtzaz
Lucy and Ehtzaz using HoloLens


The special interest group will meet again after Christmas to develop ideas further.

To find out more about HoloLens click on this link:

And for Oculus Rift click on this link:


Thursday, 28 September 2017

Multi-Sensory VR Experience of WilliamTalbot Photograph Exhibition

A new dimension that extends the physical space into an experimental virtual world is sweeping into museums and galleries across the UK. 

This autumn Thresholds is restaging Fox Talbot’s first photography exhibition and the riot of 1839.  It uses some of the latest multi-sensory VR technology, enabling participants to wander freely through the room and examine FoxTalbot's early prints.  The Vive headset and backpack enable untethered walking around and objects from the displays can be touched.  This feature is a relatively unexplored aspect of the medium.

I was lucky enough to attend the display this Saturday morning.  It was the first time that I had worn the headset in a gallery experience of this kind.  Once the headset and backpack had been fitted; the experience began by being led up the entrance ramp by a National Trust volunteer.  As soon as I entered the white room the headset visuals and audio commenced.  I was drawn to the warmth and crackle of the fire in the room (which was positioned around a real heater), before walking around the room to admire the prints and artefacts.

As I moved around the room I could see ghosts of other participants and carefully avoided them as I touched the sides of the exhibit cases.  I stopped to look at a portrait and watched a spider crawl across the frame, though forgot to look for the mouse that I had been told would run across the floor.  The ticking of a clock caught my attention and I noted that it showed the correct time. 

As I moved towards the ghostly figure of Fox Talbot, I was distracted by the criesofChartistprotestersoutside.  I turned to look out through a digital window into the street below and watched as the protesters carried lit torches and threw a stone which smashed a window.  The headsets had been calibrated so that people of average height could view the room, therefore I had to stand on my tiptoes to peer out of the window.  This added to the sense of reality. 

The headset was comfortable (for the short time I wore it).  The visuals did drop out at one point (possibly as I stretched too far to examine an object); this made me feel momentarily giddy.  The entire experience lasted less than nine minutes (I had been told that that was how long the battery pack lasted), but it was a memorable encounter.  As they say: ‘like stepping back in time.’

BU does not currently have a Vive but has an Oculus Rift which is reasonably comparable.

The Thresholds exhibition is running at Lacock Abbey until the 14 October 2017; and will then be moving to Bradford.  The experience costs £4 on top of the NT admission price.   

You can watch the video by the creator Mat Collishaw using this link:

Using Fieldscapes as an authoring tool for creating immersive learning

In order to find out more about Virtual Reality I was invited to attend a demonstration of Fieldscapes.

Dr Liz Falconer, Denyse King (Midwifery Lecturer) and David Hunt met with Nash Mbaya and David Burden from Daden Limited today; to continue their collaborative development of a Virtual Maternity Urinalysis Clinic using ‘Fieldscapes’.

Fieldscapes is a service which lets educators create and share 3D and VR immersive learning exercises. It includes a user generated library of locations and objects, and an editor which lets tutors create their own lessons on any topic.

David Burden explained that in simple terms; the Immersive 3D aspect of Fieldscapes
allows you to become an avatar in a room; for example, using first person mode to work through multiple choice exercises and interact with the environment.  Alternatively, the student can wear a VR headset e.g. Oculus Rift to fully immerse themselves in the environment and interact with patients.

The meeting was part of the Collaborative Alternative Augmented Reality Series (CAARS)- a project that is creating a 3D virtual environment that can be used in other HE and clinical contexts.

Throughout the morning, the team worked together to debug and refine the way in which an avatar carried out a urinalysis test for a maternity patient.  The experience began with the user selecting their own avatar (midwifery student in this case).  The user then made the avatar walk down the corridor to the clinical room; this was brought to life with the addition of sound effects.  Once in the room, the avatar could hear a knock at the door and they opened the door for a maternity patient to enter the room.  They then had to complete a series of MCQs and exercises in order to correctly and safely carry out the urinalysis test. 

Feedback about the students’ performance in terms of how many green, amber and red choices they made was visible throughout.  Teaching input was also included during the training exercise, for example a short animation detailing thorough handwashing procedure. 

The idea is that the first-year students can practise this training exercise as many times as required without endangering patients.  It will be adapted for 2nd and 3rd year students including reducing the time limit available etc.  It is hoped that once set up there will only be minor alterations needed to prepare the exercise for future cohorts; e.g., updating the expiry date on the image of the analysis testing sticks.  The activity can easily be shared with students via the URL.

After lunch the team moved on to explore and improve the immersive use of the VR maternity clinic using Oculus Rift and the 3D experience with google cardboard.  The BU staff were delighted that the Oculus Rift dramatically altered the look and feel of the clinical room, and that the handheld Haptic feedback controls added to the experience (though some initial practise is needed to get used to these).  When using the google cardboard, the buttons were used to move the avatar and select MCQ answers etc.

Midwifery students will be using Fieldscapes this October, with other uses planned for the future.  Watch this Fieldscape!

For more information about the CAARS project see Denyse’s staff page-

For Fieldscapes info-

(Fieldscapes is free to develop your own setting and avatars.  For use with 20 students it costs approximately £300 so it is cheaper than Second Life in that respect).

VR Education- A research Update

I am Heidi Singleton, a BU PGR with CEL.  I joined in September 2017 and am at the Initial Review stage of my PhD.  My supervisors are Prof...