Person in navy shirt wearing a VR headset looking towards a big screen
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Glasgow at the forefront of extended realities ‘radical’ change to teaching

By Luke Chafer

Following his article in The Times Higher Education, The Glasgow Guardian interviews Neil McDonell on the future of extended realities in higher education.

The University of Glasgow has been at the forefront of extended realities (XR) development, with a new facility, which is one of the biggest in the UK, dedicated to XR at the ARC research centre on campus.  Following an article in The Times Higher Education (THE) detailing his suggestions on how the space of academic research will change, The Glasgow Guardian posed the question to Neil McDonell, a research fellow in philosophy and augmented and virtual reality at the University of Glasgow, as to how it will impact teaching. 

He said that he thinks: “XR will radically change the teaching of some, but not all, subjects. The ones it will change are the ones where understanding the 3D structure, the scale, or the perspective of something is particularly important. For those topics, XR technology will offer an unparalleled means of conveying the information.”

Opposing the view that using extended reality in teaching is an ambition only for future generations, Neil outlined how the University is already making progress in this field and how students have seen benefits. He described how the stride towards teaching in extended reality began in 2017 when the University secured a grant from Innovate UK to the tune of £977,000. With that money they set up “edify”, an extended reality learning platform, and implemented 10 projects handpicked by staff.

Neil told The Glasgow Guardian: “The University also built two large VR teaching labs – one in Jim’s Bar, and another in Partick Burgh Hall – which is in regular use. This year alone, students have fought battles with salmonella from inside the body, printed their own virtual page on the original Gutenberg Press, explored data in 3D, analysed Zika samples in a virtual lab, and conducted impossible experiments in physics by suspending gravity or friction. As an institution, this puts Glasgow at the forefront of teaching using XR, and there is an appetite to build this provision out further, to reach more students, and enable richer learning.”

Moving beyond what the University is currently doing, the most exciting prospect of XR is, in Neil’s words, “the power of this technology to remove physical barriers. In the short term that could be the physical barriers that stop those with mobility issues climbing Everest or scuba-diving with sharks; but in the longer term it will remove physical barriers we don’t even notice – like the rectangular shape of screens. The lack of physical limits is what excites me – not one specific-use case.”


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