Virtual MakEY space: Pushing creative boundaries with Virtual Reality

by Bobby Nisha, Department of Urban Studies and Planning, University of Sheffield

As a research team member, I had the opportunity to go on a secondment to Reykjavik, Iceland for a month. I spent about a month at the university and had the opportunity to meet with the MakEY project research team in Iceland. I am extremely grateful to Dr. Solveig for having helped and supported me throughout my stay at the university and organising a research seminar in School of Education for me to present and discuss the range of work I had been involved in; particularly in using cutting edge immersive reality such as virtual reality and augmented reality and how that can enhance creativity and innovation in a makerspace. It was great to see that we had attendees from the Reykjavik city council media unit and participants joined the seminar digitally via Adobe connect.

To experientially demonstrate the value of employing immersive reality, the seminar provided a guided hands-on experience with augmented and virtual reality. The feedback was reassuring, and the rewarding element of the seminar was the interest participants showed in knowing more about the operational details such as apps and work flow. It demonstrated the kind of vested interest that is prevalent in harnessing the potential of this technology in early years education and creating virtual maker spaces that can act as spaces to create and collaborate. The enthusiasm with which the participants walked through virtual reality experience made us end the workshop on a high energy note.  Herewith is the abstract of the seminar: RANNUM School Of Education At The University Of Icelandwebsite: http://skrif.hi.is/rannum/

Title: The enhancement of creativity and innovation with virtual reality. 

A socio-cultural-psychological shift has been made possible with learning that is enabled by technology. The emergence and omnipresence of artificial intelligence and immersive visualization technologies have the potential to shape/re-shape the boundaries of creative imagination and expression. This workshop will elucidate the future trajectories of how education is set to evolve with new age technology of immersive virtual reality. It will talk through the opportunities and means to envisage and create learning environments that acts as creative incubators in which learners are mentored, stimulated, provoked and engaged with virtual reality. It will further expand on how virtual reality and augmented reality can serve as a platform for respecting the self-expression and individuality of learners to further inspire creative thinking. The boundaries of cognitive capacities define and engage with creative endeavours and is conditioned physical, conceptual, actual and deceptive frames of references.  Creative endeavours with immersive visualization technology show that there is immense potential to tap in to the domains of experiential learning especially when it comes to design as the participant is not in the allocentric spatial frame of reference.

The workshop will present two case studies where young children engaged with virtual reality, augmented reality and 3D printing. Through the case studies the workshop will demonstrate the activities embedded a subconscious and emotionally laden multimodal process and how that contributed to the capability to draw on different semiotic modes and to transform meanings between them. The workshop will further present guided hands-on experience with augmented and virtual reality.

 AV requirement:

Access to Windows media reality will provide hands on experience with virtual reality. The virtual reality experience is immersive with an equipment called HTC Vive . The headset uses “room scale” tracking technology, allowing the user to move in 3D space and use motion-tracked handheld controllers to interact with the environment. To demonstrate Augment Ipads and smart phones with apps such as Augment and Layar installed was used.

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Members of the Icelandic MakEY team

Dr. Solveig was instrumental in organising the seminar and helping me (running around the education campus and making hundreds of phone calls!) to set up the technology needed to facilitate this workshop. makEY team members Skúlína Hlíf, Svava Pétursdóttirand Kristín Dýrfjörð was very supportive and helpful and enabled this. The most valuable element of the secondment was the time spent with the research team who shared their work and experience this included meeting Þórdís (from Innoent), visiting the Fablab at Reykjavik and discussion with Thor at the Fablab. The discussion with makEY team shed light on policy led initiatives in early years education in Iceland. I understood that the National Curriculum Guide that encompasses the frame and conditions for learning and teaching comprises of 6 fundamental pillars: • literacy, • sustainability, • health and welfare • democracy and human rights, • equality, • creativity. It was interesting to see creativity as one of the fundamental pillars on which education is based and this enables operational level initiatives such as fab labs, makerspaces to be embraced by schools and community spaces. It also helped me understand the importance of how creativity needs to be encouraged as a way of thinking in early years education and beyond. Having come from a varied discipline, the secondment provided me with valuable time to review and situate the data in CHAT theory.

Innoent: The discussion with Þórdís Sævarsdóttir was another revealing conversation and what stayed with me was the conviction with with Þórdís mentioned that their makerspace operates so the child develops the confidence and believes in themselves. It was fascinating to see how engaged the children were to explore and get creative. It was the process of engaging in the act of making that gives them the confidence to explore and learn along the way. The visit to Reykjavik fablab enabled me to see how these spaces function as an integral part of the community. How children own these spaces and enjoy learning sessions at the fab lab. The school, city council and Innovation lab have come together and funded this initiative. Thor gave me a tour of the fab lab and explained how the space functions and the more importantly how the space is managed. The time enabled me to draft and structure a journal article titled: The Pedagogic value of learning with Virtual reality and have scoped out a short article on bridging realities with multi-modal learning with the use of augmented reality and this is an invited article for the IST Journal.

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The inspiring time in Iceland has given me new ideas for taking the idea of makerspace into new trajectories. I will be involved in a project titled ‘Loneliness lab’. (https://lonelinesslab.org/), the aim of is to reimagine the places in which we live and work, in ways that help us to make connections more easily, and to feel part of a community where the most vulnerable and isolated are included. The project will pilot ideas over the next 12 months. I will be proposing setting up makerspaces as a strategy around communities in London. I will also be exploring employing makerspace as a strategy for professional and personal development for HE educators. I will be doing this in my capacity as SEED (Seeking Educational Equity and Diversity) Leader on the Sheffield SEED project. There are further opportunities in working towards taking the concept of makerspaces to the Global South to countries like India.

I will be continuing the work on the project as I return back to Sheffield and there is a range of activities lined up such as the ‘Festival of the Mind’ showcase at the winter gardens (September 22ndand 29th) and the global makerspace collaboration in October.  There is so much prospect in pursuing this idea of ‘Global makerspace’ and looking forward to collaborating with makEY research team members in Denmark, Australia, and Iceland for the collaboration week in October. We will keep the team updated on our school collaboration in October where young children from Sheffield will be collaborating and communicating with makerspaces in Denmark, Australia and Iceland. I want to end by thanking Prof. Jackie Marsh for leading such an innovative project, supporting me through this exciting research project; and this very inspiring secondment opportunity. Thanks to Dr. Solveig and the MaKEY team in Iceland for their kindness, immense support and making my time in Iceland so inspiring and enjoyable.

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About me:

I am a University Teacher and Programme Director for MA in Urban design and Planning at The University of Sheffield, UK in the Department of urban Studies and Planning. With a background in Architecture, my research focuses on Psychological impact of design and in Innovative ‘learning by doing’ models of design learning where I explore the potential of virtual reality/Augmented reality in learning and Teaching. I am the Academic lead on a HEFCE funded project “Developing Design Consultants of the Future’. and a research team member of the ‘Makerspaces in the early years: Enhancing digital literacy and creativity’ (MakEY) project funded by the EU H2020.

Email: b.nisha@sheffield.ac.uk

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