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Active Learning through virtual realities and 3D avatars: A sneak peek behind the scenes of the process of conception, development, and implementation – SALTISE

June 2, 2022 14:00 at 15:30

In collaboration with OBVIA’ education and empowerment axis, this online bilingual symposium brought together six innovative panellists from Concordia University, Laval University and Stanford University to share a critical sneak peek behind the scenes of the process of conceiving, developing, and implementing learning experiences using VR and 3D avatars to facilitate active learning and learning transfer for complex competency development. The event was facilitated by Nadia Naffi and Ann-Louise Davidson.

First, Professor Julie Lessard and Maude Picard, educational technologist from Université Laval addressed the conception and the development of a VR project for undergraduate students in an introductory Family Intervention course in Psychoeducation, its objectives and the literature supporting the use of VR to meet these objectives. This course is offered to future health and social services practitioners and the VR project intends to recreate a real-life experience. The panelists addressed why, before undertaking such an extensive, costly, and time-consuming project, it is necessary to 1) be supported by people with the necessary expertise and 2) ensure sufficient human and financial resources. The audience gained a better understanding of the different challenges associated with the development of a VR project and of other alternatives that were explored to reach the course objectives.

Second, Professor Isabelle Dufour, and Julie-Christine Gagné educational technologist, both from Université Laval, discussed the steps that led to the implementation of 8 clinical cases, each animated by a 3D avatar with a complex mental disorder, with whom the students intervene throughout the session, first individually and then as a team. Developing critical thinking skills in clinical intervention students is extremely difficult. Yet, it is central to the helping professions. The avatar-driven clinical case project addresses this gap by facilitating: 1) the development of critical thinking in clinical intervention; 2) the development of professional identity; 3) learning from one’s mistakes and accepting the frustrations inherent in intervention; 4) the apprehension of case complexity and the development of more sophisticated analytical reasoning; 5) bridging the gap between theory and practice; and 6) knowledge retention. In addition to the pedagogical approach, both panelists explained the many gains.

Third, Marco Luna, documentary filmmaker, part-time faculty and VR/AR technologist from Concordia University introduced different projects to discuss the creative processes and technical decisions made by each production team. In a context where creators are overexposed to interactive noise with digital business jumping into the “Metaverse”, how can new storytellers find community, social engagement and diversity of voices using immersive technology? Is virtual reality development hard to understand? Marco reflected on the unique challenges faced and their resulting workflows, including both the successes and failures of the ever-evolving and ongoing curriculum and pedagogical discussions regarding the teaching of immersive technology in the fine arts program.

Fourth, Eugy Han, a Communication PhD student at Stanford University’s Virtual Human Interaction Lab (VHIL) and a teaching assistant for Virtual People, one of the first courses set almost entirely in VR, presented a large-scale, longitudinal case of the class. Incorporating VR into the classroom is not a novel concept. Historically, instructors have used VR for a multitude of purposes. However, oftentimes these are one-shot experiences, non-networked, or small in scale. Eugy presented a course that brought multiple hundred students into a networked virtual environment, where students interacted with instructors in real time. In this experience, she talked about how to implement a course of this magnitude, how to account for the challenges that often plague classes of this nature, and what learning and interaction look like in virtual reality as avatars.