Today as I stood outside the engineering department of the University of the Sunshine Coast and admired the reclaimed land, the kangaroos that were clearly quite relaxed on campus I had no idea of the technological advances that I was about to see. I had thought I was reasonably up to date but in fact I too am a dinosaur.
This visualisation facility (sorry for the poor quality photos) contains a 2D/3D cave where the student gets an experience like no other. There are only four of these in the world, this is the biggest with 20 panels, and USC are the only facility which is using it for teaching. Total cost 37.2 million dollars.
Only 15 people are allowed inside at the one time and if you suffer from vertigo or epilepsy the area is off-limits. We stood in the middle surrounded by the 20 screens. Initially we saw 2D images. The quality and definition were amazing. Different screens could be shown at the same time allowing students to return to a screen, unlike seeing the slide for a short time and then its gone. Then we put on our three D glasses and found ourselves whisked off to Cameroon where we drove through the village, inspected inside their houses, visited the market and toilet arrangements. This gives the student the experience of being there and they can gain greater understanding of the limitations of their projects, see what really needs attention and so much more.
Then a water pump was displayed. It was floating in front of me in the middle of the room. I felt I could reach out and touch it. By turning the object the student could really look inside it and see how it worked. I could see that surgery could be learnt under these circumstances. In another section of the faculty which we didn’t have time to visit a smaller display allowed touch interaction. To me it was mind-boggling and the value to the student must be tremendous.
The back of a couple of the panels.
Next I went to the interactive lab where visualisation using 3D and virtual reality allows the wearer to interact in a way that is powerful and would enhance learning as you could manipulate, become immersed in and try concepts that are purely in your imagination. Here they can become real. My nephews would have loved it. I put on the goggles and whilst stationary I walked around the outside of a building. wherever I looked I walked. It was terrifying as I had to stop myself from falling off a cliff. I certainly became quite disoriented as I tried to save myself from various scenarios.
The 3D printer was in this room as well and was churning out little artistic vases that a group of school children had designed. Just amazing.
Life is much different. The scope is huge. I think I’m lucky just to get a glimpse of it. I’m also pleased that higher education has gone from teacher centred to student centred. Gone are those days of 400 students in a lecture theatre. No hope of asking questions but with fifteen. What individualised learning that must provide.