New ‘Virtual Reality’ elective included in PhD research
As part of his PhD research, external PhD candidate Robin de Lange will be teaching an elective entitled Virtual Reality for Science and Education. The course starts in September 2015. The Leiden University Fund and the Gratama Association invested 10,000 euros in the project.
Robin de Lange is not only an external PhD candidate, he is also a bit of an outlier in terms of his research. His research at the Leiden Institute for Computer Science under the guidance of thesis supervisor Bas Haring, Extraordinary Professor of Public Understanding of Science, is not a standard dissertation with a hypothesis, but an exploration of the possibilities of using Virtual Reality (VR) in teaching and research. In his theoretical framework, De Lange also uses a philosophical approach to answer the question of how people use the environment in their cognitive processes. De Lange aims to involve the students of the elective course in his exploratory research. The idea is to create an interactive knowledge exchange between teacher and students that benefits all those involved.
Elective open to bachelor’s and master’s students from all study programmes
The elective is open to all bachelor’s and master’s students. The group of a maximum of 25 participants will be searching for applications of Virtual Reality in providing insight into what may be complex problems. What is possible? What are the challenges and the practical problems one runs into? For their final assignment students are expected to jointly create a working prototype of a VR concept they developed themselves. The course will also include guest lectures by Professor Bas Haring and the Leiden philosopher Dr Jan Sleutels. The elective will start in September 2015.
‘With the advent of good quality, affordable VR headsets, such as the Oculus Rift or Google Cardboard, together with a good PC or smartphone,’ says De Lange ‘anyone can have enthralling digital experiences. Most people are already familiar with the virtual roller-coasters and the games in which you can actually walk around. But the applicability is much wider. I see so much potential for teaching and research. Chemists can visualise and possibly better understand complex chemical reactions. Archaeology students will be able to reconstruct an excavation site and to explore it from a lecture hall. By filming with 360˚ cameras, journalists and film-makers will be able to make their documentaries even more eloquent. This makes the elective interesting for students and prospective students in Journalism and New Media and Media Technology. And the experience of Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) can be made much richer and more lifelike for the participating students throughout the world.’
‘It’s becoming easier and easier to create VR content,’ says De Lange. ‘360° cameras are becoming affordable and the required software more advanced. I think of this as a process of democratisation of technology that will allow students, researchers and teachers to gain better insight into specific problems in their own field of study. The goal of my research in the short term is to collect and develop VR experiences that are directly applicable in education, both within and outside Leiden University. The results will be presented in a symposium in early 2016.
De Lange is a Leiden graduate. He studied physics and philosophy and completed a master’s programme in Media Technology. He is currently preparing for his research by reading literature and developing the elective course. De Lange’s income comes primarily from his company, which offers homework supervision and partners with other organisations to create programme courses for secondary school students. ‘The greatest common denominator in my work is helping people – usually young people – to understand the world better. That is where my passion lies.’
De Lange is positive about forthcoming developments in education, namely the fact that students will soon be able to study at home or in the library using video lectures, books and other materials, and that lectures will be reserved for processing and studying materials in more depth through discussion, both among students and with the teacher. For example on the basis of VR videos. De Lange: ‘VR can add extra depth to education.’ But this is not a tool that can be used for too long, he explains at the end of the interview. ‘After ten minutes, most people become nauseous, and have to take off their headset.’ Our senses are apparently not so easily fooled.
(2 June 2015)