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Honours Academy experimenting with Virtual Reality

The Honours Academy has recently started working with the new visual technology Virtual Reality (VR). 'It is important to look beyond your own borders and to keep on experimenting. It may not work out, but at least you tried.'

This autumn, Robin de Lange (PhD candidate in Media Technology) will start the 'Learning through Virtual Reality' Honours Class.  The Sweat Room and the domes of the Leiden Observatory have already been recorded in VR together with the Online Learning Lab / New Media Lab (Centre for Innovation). The Honours Academy wants to explore the opportunities offered by this new technology, and at the same time contribute to innovative teaching methods.  

Last year Robin de Lange taught an optional course on 'Virtual Reality for Science & Education' and in February there was a meeting for staff at the University on the possible applications of Virtual Reality. 'So far there is very little good VR content available that can be used in teaching, but it's much easier to make than you think,' De Lange explained. 'To take VR further, everyone within the University needs to make a concerted effort.' 

'In the new "Learning through Virtual Reality" Honours Class students will experiment with applying VR in their own field,' Chris de Kruif, Director of Teaching Programmes at the Honours Academy, explained. 'We believe it's important to give this new technology a chance.' De Lange will teach the new Honours Class and he regards it as a good opportunity to develop VR further. 'In this optional subject you can see how lecturers and students experience the technology. A new medium like this calls for a different technical approach and a lot of experimentation.' 

The first experiment by the Honours Academy has already taken place. In collaboratioin with the Online Learning Lab / New Media Lab, four films have been made at special University locations. When Ton van Haaften was appointed Dean of the Honours Academy on 6 April, all those present were given 3D glasses, with which they could view the films. Van Haaften wanted to stress the importance of innovation in teaching. 'It is important to look beyond your own borders and to keep on experimenting. It may not work out, but at least you tried.'

Making the films was a good opportunity for the Online Learning Lab / New Media Lab to try out the new technology. 'Virtual Reality has a lot of potential in teaching, but there's still so much that needs to be developed. That's why working together with other parties, such as the Honours Academy, is so interesting,' Thomas Hurkxkens, the organiser of the Online Learning Lab, explained. 'The Academy offers us a platform for applying VR in a real-life situation. It gives us the chance to share our knowledge of new developments in the field of media with the University and we can use these experiences to develop our ideas further.' 

Now that this first experiment has been completed, Chris de Kruif wants to use the new Student at your Desk project – in which student assistants are appointed as teachers to help promote innovation - to make sure that VR is actually applied in teaching. De Kruif is hopeful about the benefits of this project: 'Teaching these students how it works and what opportunities it offers means they can in their turn make sure that it is applied in practice in the classroom.' 

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