A woman wearing a VR headset.

Photo credit Prof Holden-Dye
Oculus Go in action at UoS Open Day, October 2018. Photo credit: Prof Holden-Dye

Why Open Days?

At Open days we want to give prospective students and their parents a strong sense of the UOS experience and showcase our unique selling points when it comes to Programmes of Study. For courses which include a fieldwork component this has so far included screening video of locations and current students. But prospective students are several milestones away from those lived experiences. How do we help them move from imagining one of their potential future selves on that field trip, to feeling more like they are a UoS student and there? Possibly by giving a prospective student an immersive experience that showcases both a locality and teaching staff.

Our messaging for the day was clear: this technology is not intended to replace our excellent fieldwork opportunities, but to give prospective students a flavour of what they will experience. We are an innovative and engaged Professional Service, looking to develop enhanced learning opportunities (current students will be able to access expanded browser-based tours in preparation for fieldwork).

Development of resources

Here in Digital Learning we have been exploring how to create 360 video. We were invited to attend fieldtrips with Biology and Marine Biology students this year and have tested different models of 360 cameras. Our media developers have been learning to use Unity and have now built two bespoke University of Southampton VR experiences with differing levels of interactivity. After reviewing a number of commercial VR headsets, we purchased four Oculus Go units for showcasing our VR videos. We chose the Go partly because of the ease of operating system, lack of wires, sound quality, comfort, and because our experiences can be installed directly on the unit.

The first experience is a looping 2-3 minute video of a mudflat; an environment that is not always easily accessible. The Module Lead talks to the camera, so headset users have a passive but engaging experience where they can look around and the lecturer is talking to them.

The second experience takes longer and is suitable for more confident users. The viewer can ‘move’ between 360-view locations by selecting hotspots. Each location has other interactive hotspots which play video filmed and edited from the fieldtrips.

On the day…

The Go units were deployed at the October Open Day, and the feedback has been very promising. Three units were used in three locations; NOCS (Ocean and Earth Sciences), Jubilee Sports Hall (iSolutions) and Building 85 (Biological Sciences).

Where space was limited in the main exhibition hall, participants were encouraged to remain seated on a swivel chair. The experience deployed here was the looping video as it was much easier for staff to start and stop, and each participant had a clearly defined window of time.

In Biological Sciences, participants were carefully monitored in a suitably clear space in a seminar room. Due to the more specific audience, participants were given the more interactive experience and had longer to explore their surroundings.

Staff feedback

One of the main aims of this initiative was to find a low cost delivery mechanism that could be easily managed by staff who have little to no experience of VR. Google Cardboard has certain limitations in relation to wifi demand, smartphone requirements, and quality of experience. The academic staff who volunteered to demonstrate the Go headsets reported that it was easy to set up and run the preloaded experiences on the day. One also used the opportunity to show colleagues and current students prior to the Open Day.

Student feedback

A current Biological Sciences student (who was a facilitator on the day) tried both experiences. Her response was that the university should be making more and that it was ‘amazing’.

Visitor feedback

Most of the prospective students and their parents that I spoke to had not experienced VR before and were impressed with the technology, even at the low cost end of the scale. I spent some time with a high achieving prospective student and her father as she explored the Spain fieldtrip. He was interested in our approach to providing more effective preparation for fieldwork in order to maximise the impact of the actual trip itself. As for the student, she emerged from the headset with a large grin saying “It’s so cool. It’s like you’re really there!”

Next steps

From Digital Learning’s perspective we’ve achieved our aims with this successful deployment. Our Oculus Go units are available to show staff the potential of this type of experience. We are hoping to broaden the range of disciplines represented in our 360 video creation; primarily as educational experiences (with Open days being a secondary output). Please do contact us if you would like to discuss ideas in this area or know more about Oculus Go.

Virtual Reality for UoS Open Days

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