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).

Monday, 12 October 2015

Kicking the TIM habit

Two things that I am determined to do the very next time I am in my classroom are as follows:
Number One
I will show the fantastic Austin’s butterfly video to my new class.  It is something I show every year sometimes more than once.
Showing this video is useful for many reasons: it reminds children to have a “growth mindset” and persevere; it teaches them how to peer/self-assess in a way that is kind, focused and specific and it shows them the power and importance of redrafting work.
Number Two
I shared some ideas with the Soton Scitt students this morning about AFL, which included feedback and marking.  I described a couple of ideas about how to save time marking; including using colour coding that leads to pupils copying down their own next step the following morning before redrafting.  I was discussing how I mark pupils’ work in green and then they respond to my feedback and questions using purple pen etc.  Then I said that pupils should then respond to my feedback using more purple pen (I stressed that the colour of pen didn’t matter and that I would only ask pupils to do this if their work had been independent etc- so not after every lesson!).    
After the lecture I realised that I haven’t been encouraging my pupils’ independence enough; and that although I had told the Scitt students about @learningspy’s blog and how he advocates pupils taking ownership of the feedback progress, I hadn’t really been doing this myself!  I had been occasionally asking pupils to peer or self-assess their work, particularly in maths and sometimes English.  But by accident I had fallen into the horrific Triple Impact Marking (TIM) trap!  
Now I want to try to break my habit so I am going to print these next three steps out and try to make me and my pupils follow them at every opportunity:
1.     Pupils self asses their work and highlight sections where they feel they have taken a risk or struggled
2.     Teacher provides feedback where it has been requested by pupils (and if necessary- feedback about pupils progress towards the original learning objective)
3.     Pupils then improve a section of their work using the teacher’s feedback
Can I kick the habit?  I will let you know!

Saturday, 25 July 2015

Jumping for Joy- at Primary Scratch Jam Dorset

Yes we had one yr5 boy literally jumping for joy at our recent scratch coding competition. It was literally a yr5/6 computer geeks paradise when boys and girls came to compete in our coding competition. 

The stakes were high as students scored lego bricks in a bid to win Amazon vouchers and other prizes. There were also trophies to award pupils for creativity and teamwork too. 

The secondary teachers present were amazed by the skills of our primary pupils and felt that they could have competed against GCSE level students. 

One of the highlights for me was; during break time, when a boy from my school demonstrated a Python game he has made at home to a pupil from a rival school. 

It was a fantastic day and it was great to meet up with local teachers and pupils; and has inspired me to start digital leaders at our school. 

Watch out for a larger Scratchjam next year hopefully based at Bournemouth Uni; to build upon our links with the animation school there. 

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 downloadabl...