Glyndŵr to deliver teaching, learning and research in Immersive Learning Environment

Computing students attending Glyndŵr University will learn how to create fear using virtual rats, bats and zombies in a cutting-edge learning dome.

The Immersive Learning Environment is one of many ground breaking new techniques used on different courses at the Wrexham institution.

Based at Techniquest Glyndŵr, the University’s Computing department with the aid of Health, Psychology and the Television and Digital Media course leaders have come up with a variety of ways to utilise the trailblazing facility.

Health Sciences lecturers recently used it to host students, professionals and local Assembly member Lesley Griffiths at an open day.

That department plans to introduce their £30,000 medical METIman mannequin into the facility, recreating crisis scenarios to give a real-life feel to lessons.

Nathan Roberts, a Senior Lecturer in Computing, has developed dozens of ideas that will allow students from across the University to see, touch, hear and even smell while they’re in the dome using technology, smoke, sound waves and a ‘smell emitter’.

They could even feel like they’re moving around the interior of the dome thanks to an omnidirectional treadmill.

“Techniquest Glyndŵr has been very kind in letting us use the learning dome. We wanted to bring a more innovative approach to education and do that in partnership with other departments so we can all get the best out of it,” said Nathan.

“We are constantly coming up with new environments to make the best of the space. The technology is a huge draw, especially for Computing students, but could add value to every department here at Glyndŵr University.”

He added: “In the future we will look to further develop relationships with schools and colleges with the help of Techniquest Glyndŵr. Both Computing and Techniquest Glyndŵr already do a lot in the community and we want to build on that.

“There are limitless possibilities, the scope is huge.”

Together with colleague Steve Davies, Senior Lecturer in Television and Digital Media Broadcast, Nathan is garnering feedback and exploring new techniques to examine ways in which the technology can be introduced to modules to provide new and innovative ways to educate students.

One example of this is the collaboration with Computer Game Development and Psychology students where they are developing dynamic environments which change based on the user’s emotional responses by creating their own weather patterns.

The dome technology is combined with that of an Emotive EPOC headset, supplied by the University’s Psychology department.

“The headset allows us to identify different emotional states and we use this information to change the weather – if they’re feeling down, it rains. Smile and it’s sunny,” said Nathan.

“We can take things much further as well. Although the actual dome is fixed we can create motion using the omnidirectional treadmill so the user can navigate the projected surroundings. We are also looking to develop a smell emitter to complement each environment so if you were walking through a field of poppies you’ll be able to smell them.”

Nathan is also working with Psychology to create an environment of fear in the dome. This information can help their students investigate emotional responses.

The research can be fed back to courses such as Computer Game Development in improving develop of game styles within specific genres.

“The idea would be to set the scene of a cave you can walk into. When the student is immersed in the cave we could build noise and pipe jets of air and images onto smoke to make it look like there are bats or rats in there.

“A second projection would add to the effect and the jets of air will give the sensation of them running or flying past you – all very scary and a brilliant education tool for that course.

“We are even looking at wearable technology that provides tactile feedback and also includes embedded sensors that can read vital signs.

“Through the use of a popular open-source electronics prototype platform called ‘Arduino’ we are able to create devices such as heart monitors that measure a user’s pulse and this information back to the environment.

“We’ve recently set up a prototype that allows users to navigate a landscape populated by zombies, when you find one their heart beats in unison with your own.

“There is so much we can do with this technology and it will be of great benefit to the University going forward.”

The Computing department hopes to get the public more and more involved in developments and encourages different departments at the Welsh institution to work with them in the future.

“If I was a student again I’d definitely want to come here, use this technology and be part of this,” added Nathan.

“As well as being innovative and ground breaking it’s also very enjoyable, which is important.”