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Virtual reality pilots underway

by Katriina Lammi, Head of International Affairs, KEUDA Group Vocational Education and Training

I am happy to share the partners’ experiences since March 2021 on using of Virtual reality in a vocational school! What it takes, what it gives. Most of us where new to using VR, so if you are interested in experimenting with VR, read on! Some valuable pointers are to follow.

We are 5 VET-schools in 5 countries: Finland, Denmark, the Netherlands, Italy and Spain.

Much work was done simply to get organized, to be able to get into virtual reality. Equipment had to purchased (Oculus Quest VR-glasses, some laptops, licences), tutorials needed to be recorded on how to start using Microsoft Altspace, online sessions were organized to support the teachers to get in and become operational.

We chose Microsoft Altspace, as it is free of charge VR-platform, and therefore is accessible to all. Altspace contains a lot of virtual communities, where one can enter to explore. VRinVET -project has created in Altspace a Math Labyrinth with tasks in English, have a look at <link>.

However, we soon discovered, that Altspace, after a major program update in fall 2022, no longer served us as we had anticipated. For example, videos are no longer supported so for example all planned tutorials will not work inside Altspace, nor can teachers utilize videos in the assignments. Direct internet links do not work either. A teacher nor student can enter Altspace with his/her regular organisational Microsoft ID but needs to create a personal Microsoft account instead – another step to take before entering. Creating of an account does not require buying of any Microsoft licenses, so that’s good! It is for free.

One can still input e.g., 360-photos in to Altspace, and use them to introduce your school or workshop. Inside these photos it is no longer possible to move around. You can enter them via a link, and have a look around, like here with electrician’s workshops:

Overall, the use of Altspace for total beginners has turned out to involve much more time and effort than was foreseen. They cannot be involved simply by looking at a video tutorial.

Altspace seems to function as an “entry” to learn how a VR-environment works, and how to use the functionalities. However, the teleports between VR-environments have been unreliable – one gets stuck in them. For the moment, one can enter a specific self-created VR-environment only by using a direct link and a code. The original idea of creating VR-learning spaces that are interconnected to one another via teleports inside Altspace is therefore lost. Keuda ISS International Spaceship CAN be used as a VR-environment to learn how to use Altspace. Partners will look into this and discuss on its use – well let you know!

Now on to GLUE. It is a much more sophisticated, licence-based VR-environment that partners are moving into to continue with pilots. Anyone can visit GLUE for 30min for free, to have a sneak peek: <link>

The English communication – team was the first to pilot inside Glue. The teachers created assignments, input them into GLUE, and started to pilot them with students. For now, we can say the students were very comfortable inside the VR-environment, they soon go the hang of it, and had fun meeting foreign students!

On the topic “pilots”, we agreed they can go ahead with baby steps, whenever at least two schools are available time wise to enter VR with some students. The pilot’s focus is to find out how much support is needed, what is the best way to organize the getting into VR with students, how the learners feel about using VR and about meeting foreign students there, and how are the created assignment’s function.

GLUE company has been great and supported the users to get started.  The licensing of GLUE VR involves floating licenses, which can be used by several persons, just not at the same time. In other words, each teacher can use the same licenses of their school, if they manage to time coordinate amongst themselves the use of the licenses.

With close to a year already gone by, the project has been a real practical learning curve for all parties involved! The partners have learned a great deal about what it takes to start using VR from the scratch. There are several technical aspects to consider. VR-glasses need to be charged and installed before they can be used. Is the school network good enough or not? If not, can we share internet connections via phones? Are the laptops sufficient, can we use them to enter into Altspace – in most cases they are not. How to make the limited number of VR-glasses do for many working groups and students, whose pilots are taking place in different buildings or even in different towns – how to manage the VR-glasses, who distributes them to students, who keeps track of them?

VR, in general, has become much more familiar to all involved, and in the process of piloting we are learning how to organize the support services in the schools. It is very encouraging to find out after the first pilots that students are enthusiastic and want more!

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