With the advancement of transformative technologies, the boundaries between digital and analog are becoming increasingly blurred. Immersive experiences are on the rise due to the growing interest in the “Metaverse” – not only for gaming and entertainment but also for collaboration in groups and teams.
At the same time, the demands and expectations of learners are evolving. In the context of Future Skills, it is crucial for (aspiring) professionals to acquire competencies in handling technologies of the future or at least to have familiarized themselves with them – especially to be able to adopt a critical stance.
Against this backdrop, in July 2023, the Office of Learning Innovation of the Frankfurt School initiated the pilot project “Mitten_drin: Virtual Collaboration in 3D spaces” in collaboration with the department “International Advisory Services (IAS)”. In this blog post, we want to take a closer look at this exciting experiment.
The widespread adoption of remote work, coupled with digital learning programs, has fundamentally transformed our approach to learning and working, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic. Relying on video conferencing tools like Teams and Zoom has now become the norm. However, amplified by the challenges of the COVID-19 crisis, a noticeable fatigue from virtual meetings has set in, commonly referred to as “Zoom Fatigue.”
In this context, our pilot project aimed to explore a new and innovative dimension of communication and collaboration within a virtual learning environment. Our goal was to gather experiences in developing innovative learning concepts and navigating immersive learning technologies. We also aimed to evaluate scenarios for shared learning experiences in the virtual 3D space. Specifically, the use of virtual learning environments was intended to enhance the social and emotional elements of online events, embodying the principle: “When avatars meet, people connect.”
As part of the pilot project, the project team from the SWA e-Campus (IAS) developed a use case and designed two VR sessions for participants in their courses. Additionally, we delved deeply into the realm of space design, which plays a pivotal role in virtual learning environments. For the immersive experience, we utilized a software that does not require a VR headset but can be accessed through an app or browser on a laptop or desktop.
The first event in the 3D space was an onboarding/icebreaker session, focused on participant introduction and preparation for the main event: a plenary discussion in the virtual space where professionals engaged in a discussion on the topic of “Scaling up Finance for Sustainable Development: A Multi-Stakeholder Dialogue“. Participants quickly grasped navigation in the space, enjoying the experience of moving and interacting with each other in the virtual environment.
During the preparation of the sessions, we noticed that 3D spaces, compared to conventional video conferencing tools, provide more scope for interaction and practical tasks. Meetings and collaboration in these dynamic learning spaces were enjoyable and sparked creative ideas. The sense of the presence of others in the virtual space resembled in-person workshops, enabling a new and fascinating form of social interaction.
On the other hand, the adoption of new technology also brought along new challenges, particularly of a technical nature. For example, the software we piloted heavily relied on a stable internet connection, and participants encountered more difficulties during the installation and setup of the app compared to using common video conferencing tools, requiring additional support. To enable the broader implementation of such VR platforms, the technical prerequisites for access would require additional streamlining to guarantee smooth participation for all interested individuals.
Nevertheless, we see potential in VR environments, especially for learning offerings where participant interaction and networking take center stage.
The pilot project illustrates that VR applications open up new avenues for how we can communicate, learn, and collaborate with each other. Our insights and learnings from the pilot will undoubtedly contribute to further unlocking the potential of these innovative solutions at Frankfurt School.