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The Potential of VR for UK Higher Education

Group Report: Technology

Introduction to the Group Work

Virtual reality techniques are likely to have a major influence on the UK's educational process in the future. For example, it may be possible to provide educational establishments with access to sophisticated laboratory facilities even if in a virtual form. The exact form future virtual teaching aids will take depends very much on the nature of the teaching programme to be delivered. A broad spectrum of technology based concepts will be available and it will be extremely important to understand where and how to apply these to achieve an effective teaching/educational medium.

The aim of the Technology Group is to identify where and how VR technology can be used to deliver an effective educational benefit. An initial specification of the performance required from the technology will be required to be derived for the short(1-3 years), medium(3-5 years) and long term(<10 years).

The group will start with a scoping review of VR based delivery systems for educational systems. The technology area covers the computational resource to provide the VE and the peripheral devices through which the user will interact. We will also have to consider the method of hosting the educational system and whether it is entirely locally based or part of a remote/networked system.

Our emphasis should be on the future requirement rather than what can be achieved today. The objective is to highlight the major technology concerns including :

Roy Kalawsky, Multi-sensory Virtual Environment Integration Laboratory, Loughborough University

Group Discussions

Roy Kalawsky reported back on the discussions of the group.

What is technology? - it is functionality, not just hardware.

The technology:
relationship between education, software and technology

With this definition, the group asked other groups to consider the following issues as these decide what technology they need:

Many of the systems at the moment are selling on the basis on photorealism. This is OK for games and walkthroughs but may not be what is required in education. There may be better ways to use the technology depending on the point to be made. We need to focus on the use of real models.

The application defines the technology requirements.

There is a need for standards, but this is difficult as things are changing. The need is for open standards that can evolve.

The group looked at the way technology might emerge and the results are shown below:

Head Mounted Display  300*300 	        680*480 	        1024*768 
Single User           system (50K)      system (100K)           system (70-80K)

Panoramic Single      Monoscopic (10K)  stereo (15K)            prices down to 
User                  1280*1024         1280*1024               less than 10K
                      head tracked      (35K)

Panoramic Systems     Monoscopic (20K)  stereo      stereo 	prices down 
Multiple Users        1280*1024 (20K)   (30-40K)    (25K)       to less than 
                      + software        1280*1024   1280*1024   20K
                                         (35K)      (20K) 
                                        + software  + software

                      1996              1997          1998       1999

Notes on this table: In discussion the following points emerged:


Following further discussion within the group, the following recommendations were made:
  1. Model database - we need to encourage Research Councils to get centrally stored model databases
  2. Demonstration of educational value in a key area - benefit must be obvious
  3. Technology roadmap study results to be widely available (SIMA project)
  4. Usability research is needed (independent of suppliers) which addresses performance requirements, health and safety aspects
  5. Hardware-independent, reusable software (high level) is needed - encourage a standard

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