4 Jun 2022

Enhancing Teaching & Learning Using Virtual and Immersive Technologies Seminar - Review

Guest post by David Leen, student in Sustainability Studies at UCC and student assistant at UCC Library with the Academic Services Team.

On February the 16th, UCC Library hosted a virtual seminar with speakers from Irish and American universities on the various ways VR technology can be used in teaching and learning. The event began with an introduction by Alan Carbery, Head of Academic Services in UCC Library, where he emphasized the importance of discussion between groups seeking to utilize these technologies for the benefit of students and researchers. 

I’ll now provide a summary on the speakers at the seminar, and the panel discussion at the end of the session. 

Dr. Orla Murphy

Dr. Murphy, an expert in digital humanities in UCC, has spent the past 20 years working with virtual reality software. Her PhD thesis focused on knowledge modeling, using older meshing software. Interestingly, Dr. Murphy’s presentation positioned virtual reality as a new evolution of the ‘information age’, recognising the importance of this in shifting the learning experience from the digital to the ‘real’. The technology gives an appreciation of space and size that is impossible to replicate in 2D. She highlighted the personal learning journeys that are possible using the technology, referencing a recent study which found the technology encouraged each student to accomplish the tasks set in unique ways. 

Stephanie Chen & Daniel Nowacki

The second presentation focused on UCC Library’s digital services, drawing attention to the Digital Environment Lounge. Stephanie gave a walkthrough of the space and Oculus Rift, and work done on Mozilla hubs (carried out by my colleague Cara and I), while detailing future plans for new Library spaces. She then handed the presentation over to Daniel Nowacki, a first-year student who has spent a lot of time in the Digital Environment Lounge. He gave two interesting examples where he and his friends used the equipment for learning and teaching opportunities. This presentation provided interesting examples of the practical uses of VR technology in UCC Library. 

Dr. Jerry Reen

Dr. Reen, a molecular and cellular biologist, focused on the work of his ELEVATE group, funded by the National Forum. Their work sought to enhance the student experience in visualizing the objects studied at the molecular level, using the example of a plasmid. The group sought to link and scaffold VR content with the module’s goals, not just tack it on as a gimmick. This presentation also highlighted a little-recognised aspect of VR teaching – most students have little experience with the technology, and require time to get used to it. 

Prof. Louise Rainsford

Prof. Rainsford works in the Radiography and Diagnostic Imaging department of the UCD School of Medicine. Her presentation detailed the various 2D and 3D training programmes which the University made available to their students to aid in the preparation for their placement periods. She specified that the technology was ‘embedded’ into the curriculum, ensuring each student became comfortable with the technology, with 72% of students more comfortable in a practical setting. She noted the use of VR to visualize radiation – usually invisible – as a fantastic tool to allow students to grasp the concept. 

Elise Gowen

Elise’s presentation was concerned with her efforts to create immersive experiences for students in a STEM library at Penn State University, highlighting the various programmes made available. The most interesting of these were a collection of virtual field trips for the Geosciences department, improving the educational experiences of distance learners and low-income students by making unique experiences available. She showed off programmes designed to replicate rock formations of interest, or immersive simulations of various phenomena. 

Megan Baird and Jamie Nelson

The speakers from the University of Illinois highlighted the work of their Centre for Innovation in Teaching and Learning, focusing on their various outreach efforts and the novel uses which they have found for their technology. From e-sports to dress design, the presentation detailed the wide variety of uses for the systems once you have the interest and support of the student population. This talk led into a presentation from one such student.

Zade Bosco Lobo

Zade discussed the more student-focused elements of the University of Illinois’ offering, as the vice-president of their student-run VR Club. The university works to both embed VR technologies in their undergraduate programmes, and offers development courses in VR and game development. He also detailed the various research programmes ongoing at the university. However, the highlight of the talk was the VR Club itself. He went into detail describing the various initiatives of the club to encourage participation with the technology, from board games to the university’s esports teams. 

Dr. James Frazee and Dr. Sean Hauze

The presentation from San Diego State University detailed their work with their corporate partners to incorporate ‘Extended Reality’ technologies to each of the university’s colleges, 70 courses and 54 faculty. The university emphasized their focus on students as creators. A particularly interesting example was the use of HoloLens to train nurses. 

Panel Discussion

The panel discussion introduced some interesting themes. The impact of Covid on the rollout of educational technologies was considered, with most panelists agreeing that Covid has sped up this process. The use of training tools for medical education was highlighted in particular. 

When asked about the greatest inhibitors to VR as an educational tool, panelists considered a variety of reasons, from a misunderstanding of the nature of the technology to the educators’ own confidence in using the tech. They considered that more help should be directed at the educators as well as the students. 

Finally, open access to educational technology was considered by the panel. The importance of curated experiences for certain courses was emphasized. Panelists noted that repositories of educational programmes could be used to ensure their sustainability, but that these systems are less effective for previewing VR experiences. 


The seminar was a very interesting look at the development of educational technologies in a multi-national setting. The problems facing the institutions were addressed in a collaborative manner, and both the student and academic experiences were highlighted. 

The introduction, all of the presentations, and the panel discussion are available on YouTube.  


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