F1-TEAM1-3 - The Latest in Immersive Telepresence to Support Shared Engineering Education

1. Innovative Practice Work In Progress
Nicolas Pope1 , Mikko-Ville Apiola1, Heidi Salmento1, Najmul Islam1, Marko Lahti1, Erkki Sutinen1
1 University of Turku, Turku, Finland

Work in Progress: In this paper we outline our initial findings on the potential of state-of-the-art immersive telepresence to support the practical and collaborative group work element in our remotely taught international degree programmes, specifically a Software Engineering Masters degree. Whilst we adopt widely used distance learning approaches generally, the challenge remains in supporting live synchronous practical sessions that depend heavily, on one hand, on the expertise of the educator and their presence in the shared learning environment, and on the other hand, the students’ active engagement within teams partially distributed physically. A related challenge is in the quality of social interaction. Many distance learning environments fail to enable authentic interaction and a sense of social presence that are essential in collaborative learning. Any technical progress in improving the “sense of presence” can radically renew our conceptions of (distance) teaching and learning, maybe also in terms of the 21st century skills or even those that we are not yet aware of. Immersive Virtual Learning Environments or more standard video conferencing are reviewed and taken to be a poor substitute for more flexible and richer face-to-face interactions. The question to address is that if sufficiently high-fidelity, and unintrusive, immersive capture technology is used then how could this be game changing in this area? Previous work using similar immersive technology has failed to achieve the level of quality or scope necessary, however, the past 4 years have seen significant progress in the hardware and algorithms required. To support our degree programmes we have designed and developed a custom live 3D capture system for a higher fidelity immersive experience targeting small groups of 2-6 people collaborating both locally and remotely. This system is based upon many of the recent advances in this technology, along with a few additional as yet unpublished improvements. Here we will present the system and the responses to interviews, focus groups and general discussions with a wide range of educational and business professionals to a demonstration of our innovative platform, scoping out the potential wider affordances and challenges still remaining for what is a rapidly advancing technology. These discussions go beyond our narrower use case to include, for example, applications in primary schools. We focus on the affordances offered by the technology to support the learning of the much needed competences of communication, collaboration, critical thinking and creativity which are very challenging to enhance by conventional, content delivery oriented distance learning approaches.