UJ’s virtual reality hub to advance STEM education
The Department of Science and Technology Education within the Faculty of Education at the University of Johannesburg (UJ), has introduced a virtual and augmented reality (AR) research hub to accelerate innovation in the education field.
The new VARSTEME hub seeks to play a key role in educating the next generation of researchers and practitioners, by creating one of Africa’s primary academic centres dedicated to virtual reality (VR) and AR in science, technology, engineering and mathematic (STEM) learning, according to UJ.
Located at Auckland Park Kingsway campus in Johannesburg, the hub will support research and education initiatives with a potential to deliver game-changing breakthroughs in the STEM field, says UJ.
It will bring together an interdisciplinary team of UJ faculty, graduate students and postgraduates taking up studies in VR and AR.
“We have great expectations for the hub and believe this can be a significant feature of the faculty and the university for research and teacher education,” says UJ professor Umesh Ramnarain, HOD of science and technology education.
“In December 2020, UJ was invited to do a presentation on the activities of the VARSTEME hub at the fifth Europe-Asia Symposium on Simulation & Serious Games for Education. It was the first invited presentation from an African country.”
The hub will be officially launched today during a virtual opening ceremony.
The recognition of technology-enabled learning that has been forced due to the pandemic is opening doors to learning opportunities that are unprecedented in human history, and the development of VAR technologies is a marker for the future of basic and higher education delivery in the country, notes UJ.
In SA and other emerging markets, AR and VR applications remain niche tools for scientific research. The goal of the VARSTEME hub is to equip pre-service and in-service teachers with knowledge and skills in the use of advanced learning technologies, it adds.
Associated to this goal, is the research agenda to pursue studies on the efficacy and pedagogy of the two technologies.
“UJ’s VARSTEME hub is well-placed to assume a key leadership role in exploiting the affordances of VR and AR, not only in South Africa but on the African continent as a whole,” says professor Yiyu Cai, professor from Nanyang Technological University (NTU) in Singapore, programme director of the Strategic Research Programme of VR and Soft Computing, and professor in charge of the Computer-aided Engineering Labs at NTU.
“Through VARSTEME, international collaboration can be developed for next-generation education research.”
The UJ VARSTEME hub builds on the Virtual Campus Tour, which uses VR with AR to help people navigate the campus maps online. UJ also has the Virtual Graduation ceremony and online systems for graduates, which include digital certificates, electronic academic records and the graduation selfie picture feature.