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The Potential of VR for UK Higher Education

The Backdrop to the Workshop

Anne Mumford & John Slater

The workshop formed a part of the SIMA project funded through the JISC (Joint Information Systems Committee of the HEFCs) New Technologies Initiative. SIMA (Support Initiative for Multimedia Applications) runs as part of the programme of the Advisory Group On Computer Graphics (AGOCG).

JISC have recently produced an issues paper entitled: "Exploiting Information Systems". The key areas identified in the discussion are: teaching and learning experience; distance learning, on/off campus education; role of HEIs in the local, regional and global environment; research techniques, especially collaborative distance research and the virtual laboratory; exploiting IT in running "the business" and campus.

This workshop addressed some of these areas and issues and focused on the ways in which the use of virtual environments might help in the realisation of the emerging strategy in the context of HE teaching and research in the future.

In introducing the workshop, Anne Mumford explained that the aims of the workshop were to:

John Slater continued Anne's theme of looking at the political backdrop to the workshop and focused on the role of JISC.

JISC is concerned with infrastructure. Its major funding activity is concerned with the provision and maintenance of a leading edge, service network. Related to that are the network services which utilise this provision (e.g. NISS, Mailbase, BIDS, MIDAS funded through its Information Services Sub-committee). The Electronic Libraries Programme (resulting from the "Follett Report") and Management Information Services are other major areas of activity. JISC also have groups concerned with Information Strategies (a report has recently been produced) and with Standards.

A call has recently been made for the JISC Technology Applications Programme (to follow from its New Technologies Initiative). JTAP is concerned to see applications proving the use of technologies and helping pull those technologies through to services where this can be proved to be effective and efficient. The JTAP call recognises virtual environments as a technology of interest to JISC and projects are likely to be funded to consider the use of the technology in application areas. The emphasis will be on "pull-through" with developing technology typically taking up 5% of resources, the rest being use of existing technology.

The use of virtual environments will be of interest to HEFC-funded activities for teaching and learning, including TLTP and the recent HEFCE/DENI initiative for the Fund for the Development of Teaching and Learning which is concerned with the dissemination of good practice.

JISC consider standards to be of importance across the whole of its programme and have allocated limited resources for travel and subsistence for standards activities. Standards in the area of virtual environment may attract funding if the workshop perceive these as being important.

There may be a need to have a mechanism for disseminating guidelines and information relevant to VR which has been developed across various initiatives.

John suggested that a workshop to consider the future network needs of VR, in conjunction with other associated groups (visualization, multimedia, HPC) to pool their requirements and identify common needs may be of value. This could be under the SIMA "umbrella".

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