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11 October 2023

Immersed in Immersive Learning!

The Welsh Collective: Digital Learning and Teaching Enhancement


Steph Tindall
Head of Educational Practice Development, University of Wales Trinity Saint David

On 21 June, thanks to a HEFCW-funded QAA Cymru Collaborative Enhancement Project, there was a coming together of a unique group of educationalists with a shared interest in immersive learning, jokingly named but it stuck, the Welsh Collective.

The University of Wales Trinity Saint David was delighted to lead the event, in partnership with Cardiff Metropolitan University. Each university in Wales was represented including the Open University and each presented on where they were and what they were working on in relation to the very quickly advancing immersive learning space. What was most exciting about this share and learn event, however, was that all the further education colleges in Wales were also invited to attend and 10 out of 12 sent a colleague.

The event included networking the night before the actual event. This proved to be very effective as introductions and relationships were forged, which had a positive impact on the levels of engagement at the event, as well as saving time getting to know everyone on the day.

The first part of the day was spent in a demonstration of UWTSD’s new LED immersive classroom, which impressed everyone (no bias!), prompting interesting discussions, as well as setting the scene for the day.

As expected in a share and learn event, there was significant sharing and learning! It was great to hear from Dr Huw Williams from the School of Medicine at Cardiff University and how they are deploying the Wales Virtual Hospital into their Medicine MBBCh programme. The group was also inspired by Dr Stephen Atherton and Dr Jim Woolley from Aberystwyth University, who shared their virtual reality headset journey as well as their plans for the future. Ben Morris and Callie Palmer from the University of South Wales went beyond the call of duty in bringing along their VR human simulator for all to try in the coffee breaks (some funny looks on the train down to Swansea aside), in addition to their presentation of how they are using innovative digital advancements to support the learning of nursing procedures. Dr Rebecca Jones took us on a geographical fieldtrip with her aspirational development of using virtual reality in geography fieldwork in Bangor University, whilst Steve Osborne from Cardiff Metropolitan University demonstrated how instrumental the progression of immersive learning is to employability skills, with the potential of linking to micro-credentials. Gareth Evans from the Construction Wales Innovation Centre at the University of Wales Trinity Saint David shared their innovative VR project which is impacting construction learners across Wales in both FE and HE. Nathan Roberts gave us a glimpse into the future of healthcare, with the advances Wrexham Glyndŵr are achieving in augmented overlays of internal organs and medical scans, to name just one example he shared. Also in the area of health, Associate Professor Jo Davies impressed everyone with the multi-million pound immersive learning facility, housing eight immersive learning suites, at Swansea University. Last but not least, Tim Seal, Francine Ryan and Jon-Paul Knight took the group into the virtual world at the Open University, from virtual home visits for Social Workers to a virtual courtroom where participants can interact with others. You’ll be glad to hear that these case studies will be available to read on the QAA website later this year.

The day ended with a workshop on our digital future, with thanks to Steve Osborne from Cardiff Metropolitan University for both facilitating and inspiring discussions, using Jisc’s Framework for Digital Transformation in Higher Education a tool for potential collaborative next steps.

There were two highlights of the day. The first being how great it was to bring Welsh FE and HE together which enhanced discussions and encouraged new conversations between universities and colleges in the same geographical region of Wales. The second was that the group want to continue as a network, with all institutions represented signing up to be involved in future collaborative activity to enhance digital learning and teaching. There was an overwhelming enthusiasm to partner together in this digital space and culture.

We recognise that our outcomes and final products will vary and we also acknowledge that in some respects we are in ‘digital competition’. Nonetheless, we want to journey together on the immersive learning road (which currently has no speed limit!) sharing and learning from each other, exchanging knowledge, experience and expertise. Yes we could travel this space separately but I am reminded of a recent visit to the opticians, where the optician put a number of alternating lenses in front of my eyes with the question ‘better with? or ‘better without?’. So through the lens of meaningful collaboration, I say ‘better with’ and look forward to the future of the Welsh Collective. Watch this space!

#highereducation #furthereducation #workingtogether