How can immersive technology support teaching and learning? What does successful technology integration for high education look like? These were some of the questions explored at UJ’s recent Teaching and Learning Symposium.
As centres of intellectual capital and knowledge production, universities have a decisive role to play in preparing the next generation for the Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR). The pivotal question of how to use technology for teaching and learning against the backdrop of industry 4.0 was the topic of discussion at the Teaching and Learning Symposium held on 10 May 2019 by UJ’s Division for Academic Planning, Quality Promotion and Academic Staff Development.
Welcoming more than 120 academics to the symposium, Prof Angina Parekh, Deputy Vice Chancellor: Academic at UJ, said it was critical for the university to remain ahead of the curve in a world that is evolving rapidly. “We cannot focus on research without focusing equally on teaching and learning. That is integral to good practice in higher education.”
Generation Z is the first generation of truly digital savvy youth. They have been exposed to the Internet and social networks their whole lives, and they are equally comfortable in both real and virtual worlds.
“As academics, we need to engage with young people in ways with which they are most familiar,” Prof Parekh added. “We have to understand how social media and other forms of technology influence how students enter the university and the expectations they have of higher education.”
She said it is incumbent on all academics to embrace technology and to develop new ways of integrating technological developments into teaching and learning. She called on academics to explore how to make that paradigm shift and help to develop a roadmap for the university that allows the institution to integrate traditional disciplines with technology and explore the interplay between them.
In her keynote address, Prof Thea de Wet, Director: Centre for Academic Technologies (CAT), spoke about making teaching and learning more effective using augmented reality (AR), an interactive experience of a real-world environment, and virtual reality (VR), a complete immersive that shuts out the real world.
The changes in the world of work are happening much faster than in previous industrial revolutions,” she said. “Technological breakthroughs in the digital, physical and biological domains provide the fundamental background to 4IR, which will have an impact on all aspects of everyday life. According to the World Economic Forum (WEF) the skills required to thrive in Industry 4.0 include complex problem solving, critical thinking, creativity and cognitive flexibility.”
Prof De Wet stressed that taking current academic modules and merely putting them online is not embracing technology. Instead, curricula need to be redesigned from scratch. “We have an obligation to put people at the centre of teaching and learning and to put technology at the service of people. Extended reality (XR), which includes all the various forms of computer-altered reality, can be applied to teaching and learning to help students to reason better, make better decisions, collaborate, solve problems, think critically, and more.”
Referring to the 2019 Horizon Report on developments in educational technology, she noted that mixing XE and with AI (artificial intelligence) and other technologies, opens up the door to compelling new experiences.
“This enables student-centred instruction, allowing teaching and learning to happen in the world of the students,” Prof De Wet added. “It’s all about immersion and interaction, and the benefits of experiential learning. Students can be taken into the operating theatre, enter the Louvre, go into the volcano, explore Mars, and safely repair turbines.”
A number of academics also shared their teaching practice with the audience. Dr Arno Louw, a teaching and learning consultant at CAT, demonstrated how to create an inexpensive hologram using plastic and a mobile device. Dr Hema Kesa, director of the Food Evolution Research Laboratory (FERL) housed at UJ’s School of Tourism and Hospitality and Dr Herman Myburgh, a post-doctoral fellow at North West University spoke about the benefits of virtual laboratories and simulation in teaching and learning, and the understanding of food production from farm to factory.
Denver Hendricks, from the School of Architecture, gave the audience some insight into the school’s FabLab, or fabrication laboratory, which gives students industrial grade, digital fabrication tools, computers, and programming tools. “We are exploring how to migrate from manual to digital creation,” Hendricks said. “At the same time, we are discussing how digitalisation related to decolonisation and how we integrate indigenous knowledge with digital design.”
Dr Hennie Grobler, Head of Department: Mining Engineering & Mine Surveying, shared some of the developments his department is driving, in response to the demands of industry. The AR/VR tools are being used in teaching at UJ. “The mining sector wants immediately employable graduates, which means that we have to produce engineers capable of handing the most demanding circumstances. Mining is an unforgiving environment. We are creating a virtual mine to supplement teaching and learning, enabling students to experience life inside a mine shaft and to be able to understand the environment in a safe and controlled way. For example, students learn about underground blasting using a virtual blast wall. In the same way that we are simulating a mine shaft, so too can other environments be simulated to provide students with real-world experiences using VR.” Academics were able to experience the real world of mining at the Symposium.
To be effective and meaningful, however, the audience agreed, technology cannot be an add-on or gimmick, but must be properly integrated into module design, and the desired learning outcomes need to be engaged with. It is about using technology to engage and support pedagogy, and rethinking how universities design and teach modules innovatively and create active learning environments.