Creating Virtual Learning Spaces Using Mozilla Hubs at the New School

The New School, a private university in New York City, has recently launched a program using the social VR platform Mozilla Hubs as a component of classes. This is an initiative of the New School’s XReality Center, a new research centre and testbed with four core components:

  1. Immersive Learning: Create a resource hub for inspiring XR initiatives within the university with the focus on developing new learning models, design, storytelling, performing arts and the future of learning;
  2. XR and HCI Labs: Learn, design and experience what immersive worlds, XR and Human Computer Interaction (HCI) interfaces offer through our workshops, events, virtual and lab environments;
  3. Research: Lead and conduct research to create new knowledge and better understand the efficacy and impact of immersive and emerging technology in education and across industries; and
  4. Partnerships: Develop XR projects and products with internal and external clients and partners.

Starting in 2020, the XReality Centre began a program to create virtual spaces using Mozilla Hubs to enhance the learning experience:

Starting in Spring 2020, the XReality Center has embarked on creating a set of virtual spaces in Mozilla Hubs as a way to enhance student engagement and provide new opportunities for collaboration. During the fall semester the XReality Center will host virtual events, class visits and other social activities in these spaces. The XReality Center is interested in partnering with faculty, programs, schools, and administrative departments to develop and offer virtual teaching and learning initiatives.

The State of XR and Immersive Learning Outlook Report 2021 (available to download here), recently published by the Immersive Learning Research Network, describes one such application:

In a year marked by lack of access to VR labs, Mozilla Hubs gave opportunities for students to use collaborative tools and explore creating together in social worlds. At Parsons School of Design in Fall 2020, over 100 students enrolled in the Immersive Storytelling course met weekly in Mozilla Hubs to co-create virtual narratives, play, and build worlds.

Inspired by the work at the XR and HCI Innovation Labs at The New School, faculty and students from across the Parsons Art Media, Technology, and Fashion schools exhibited their 3D models and presented projects in virtual galleries using audio, video, and an abundance of student creativity. While students acknowledge the limitations of the Mozilla Hub interface, most reported that they enjoyed the opportunity to be in a shared space. One of the students summed it up: “I think it is very fun to be in a virtual world, for me it is a place where I can explore my ideas that may not be possible to create in the real world.”

Four examples of student-created worlds from the Immersive Storytelling course at The New School’s Parsons School of Design (image source: iLRN State of XR and Immersive Learning Outlook Report 2021)

The use of a simple, accessible platform such as Mozilla Hubs makes it easy for the university to try new things more quickly and easily, without making a massive investment of time and money in building their own platform. I believe that we can expect to see more institutions of higher education set up programs similar to the New School’s XReality Center, as a way to incorporate XR technology in the courses they teach.

Teaching an Indigenous Language Using Social VR at Georgian College

Maryam Ismail, a student in Georgian’s Anishnaabemowin and Program Development program, wears a VR headset (source)

I really think the format has improved my learning…After COVID-19, I can’t wait to go back to school, but keeping VR would add so much to the curriculum. I think it should be part of the curriculum.

—Maryam Ismail, a Georgian College student

Rob Theriault, who is Immersive Technology Lead at Georgian College in Barrie, Ontario, Canada, and president of the Canadian Chapter of the Immersive Learning Research Network, has worked with staff and faculty from Indigenous Studies to create an immersive Indigenous Language House that’s providing students in the college’s Anishnaabemowin and Program Development program a unique and fun way to connect to Anishnaabe culture through language.

Anishinaabemowin (also called Ojibwemowin, the Ojibwe/Ojibwa language, or Chippewa) is an Indigenous language, spoken in Manitoba, Ontario, and Quebec.

Some examples of Anishinaabemowin words and phrases

Georgian College reports:

The inspiration for one of the early pilots came from a session Rob attended on English as a second language. People were learning to order food inside a virtual coffee shop. He knew this approach would be a perfect fit for Georgian’s Indigenous language program. Michele O’Brien, program coordinator for all Indigenous programming, was quick to see the potential benefits.

The first module of language lessons in the program is based around the home. Using AltspaceVR, Rob built a house and furnished it and put information buttons on all the items in the house. Faculty member Angeline King and Elder Ernestine Baldwin translated a word list for everything so that when a student clicks on the button, the Anishnaabemowin word pops up.

The program has proven so successful that Jonathon Richter, CEO/President of the Immersive Learning Research Network (iLRN)…invited Michele and Angeline, along with other Indigenous groups, to attend a panel during the iLRN World Conference 2021 for a session on the iLRN House of Language, Culture, and Heritage – Teaching Native Language and Culture Using XR.

I am not allowed to embed the video from the iLRN 2021 conference on this blog, but you can watch it here on YouTube (it’s about an hour long).

In addition to AltspaceVR, the program has used the educational social VR platform ENGAGE. From a press release:

There is also a second house using the Engage software which includes voiceover translations with either King, Baldwin or another faculty member Mitchell Ackerman providing the pronunciation.

Georgian College is among a few schools in the world to offer Indigenous language education in an immersive virtual reality (VR) environment. (image source)

Georgian College is also making the virtual reality assets they’re building for language learning open source, so that they can be used by other Indigenous programs across Canada and around the world (please contact Rob Theriault for more information).

FundamentalVR’s Fundamental Surgery: A Brief Introduction to a Multimodal Virtual Reality Platform for Training Surgeons

Fundamental Surgery is a VR platform by a company called FundamentalVR, consisting of several components, and a sterling example of social VR used for a serious, practical purpose: the training of surgeons. The training program has been accredited by the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons (AAOS) and the Royal College of Surgeons England.

Here’s a one-minute video overview of all five components of Fundamental Surgery:

The components are:

  • HapticVR: deep simulation and procedural surgical rehearsal with kinesthetic haptic feedback (you can see a bit of this in the first video up top);
  • @HomeVR: procedural walkthrough, anatomy and environment familiarization and testing, using a standalone VR headset;
  • Teaching Space: a social VR-based virtual training space (see image below);
  • Data Insights: a central data dashboard to track progress; and
  • MultiuserVR: a collaborative/social VR platform for surgical training (see video below).

This is an animated GIF demonstrating the Teaching Space, complete with a shared whiteboard:

VRScout reported on Fundamental Surgery last September:

Teaching Space [is] an unlimited multi-user virtual classroom designed to help medical schools around the world who’ve been impacted by the pandemic; a virtual space where they’re able to get that crucial hands-on training while working other students in a collaborative virtual environment.

COVID-19 has presented big challenges in the medical field when it comes to surgical training. In many cases, it has completely disrupted traditional training programs, which have always relied on actual face-to-face classroom environments. Zoom and Skype conferencing do provide alternative learning environments, but they’re limited. 2D platforms can’t fully replace the teaching and learning opportunities offered by in-class training.

This new VR learning space provides a safe environment for instructors to meet with trainees, no matter where they are located.

The virtual classroom environment includes a virtual whiteboard that instructors can use to present additional notes as they discuss procedures with their class. From there you can hop on over to Fundamental Surgery’s virtual operating room where you can run demos of surgeries and get even more hands-on experience. 

Here’s a short video showing you what the MultiuserVR surgical experience looks like:

In addition, surgeons in training can take their lessons home with the @HomeVR program:

@HomeVR expands the Fundamental Surgery platform, offering an easy route for residency programs to integrate the latest educational technologies into their curriculums. It supports consistency in training delivery and assessment across a cohort, and can be used to enhance the effectiveness of an institution’s curriculum…

The @HomeVR product is used on standalone headsets and can be taken home to use whenever and wherever the user would like, providing flexibility of learning. The @HomeVR product serves as a great introduction to the HapticVR product, which supports full skills development.

As the VRScout article states,

Think of FundamentalVR’s medical training system as a ‘flight simulator’ for both medical students and their instructors. If you’re going to make a mistake, this is the environment to do it. Because the experience is fully immersive—using realistic audio, video, and haptic feedback—the emotions that you experience are real.

Who knows? The next time (God forbid!) you go under the surgeon’s knife, she might have had part of her training in virtual reality!

Photo by National Cancer Institute on Unsplash

For more information about FundamentalVR’s Fundamental Surgery product, visit their website, or follow them on social media: Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, or check out their videos on YouTube (there’s also a ton of videos here on the Fundamental Surgery website). And I will be adding Fundamental Surgery to my ever-growing comprehensive list of social VR and virtual worlds.

Immersive Learning Research Network Conference in VirBELA and AltspaceVR, June 21-25, 2020

iLRN 2020, the 6th International Conference of the Immersive Learning Research Network, is running in VirBELA and AltspaceVR from June 21st to 25th, 2020, one of many real-life conferences that have moved to social VR and virtual worlds because of the coronavirus pandemic. This year’s conference theme is Vision 20/20: Hindsight, Insight, and Foresight in XR and Immersive Learning:

Conference attendees must download and install a white-label version of VirBELA to attend most of the conference presentations and events. Here’s a look at the spawn point next to the information booth:

VirBELA is a virtual world I have written about before on this blog, which is very similar to Second Life (Here is a link to all my blogposts tagged VirBELA, including this one).

A view of the iLRN main stage in VirBELA

However, VirBELA is intended for corporate and conference use, as opposed to the more open-ended uses of SL, so it’s a good fit for the iLRN conference. (It looks as though AltspaceVR is primarily being used for social events associated with the conference through the Educators in VR group, according to the AltspaceVR Events calendar.)

The iLRN 2020 Expo Hall in VirBELA

If you’re interested, you can register for free for this conference via EventBrite (I got in free through an early-bird ticket special I wrote about here). I plan on attending a few presentations in between working from home for my university library system.

See you there!