April 17, 2024

Exploring the power of communities in building digital confidence

Author: angela.pink@jisc.ac.uk
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Jisc’s recent XR Wales Community of Practice event brought together educators from across the post-16 sector in Wales to share knowledge and build digital confidence.

Immersive technologies (such as augmented, mixed and virtual reality – known collectively as extended reality or XR) are transforming the education sector, offering new and innovative ways to engage learners. However, for those just starting out, getting to grips with the technology can be challenging. 

Building a community of practice 

This is where the Jisc XR communities of practice come in. Now with more than 100 members, the community group in Wales was formed in 2022 to bring together people from all post-16 education sectors including colleges, universities, work-based learning, and adult community learning providers. 

The Jisc UK XR community was also recently launched to share this expertise with a wider audience. 

These communities help members understand the benefits of emerging technologies in education, and assist them in building a collaborative culture to share information, knowledge and best practice (priorities for the Digital 2030 strategic framework for Wales for which Jisc is a key digital partner). 

XR in real life 

In March, the XR Wales community’s first face-to-face event at Coleg y Cymoedd’s Nantgarw campus in Cardiff took place with more than 50 attendees from across adult community learning, further education, work-based learning and higher education. The agenda for the event was based on feedback from the community and steering group members, highlighting the commitment to community members’ digital needs. 

Feedback included requests for more on topics such as ‘how to take baby steps with VR’, and tips for effective collaboration. Community members made it clear they wanted more peer-to-peer experiences, to  hear from experts working on XR projects across Wales and to see more examples of impactful use of these technologies. 

Leigh Amor, digital content producer at the Open University Wales, said: 

“The Jisc Wales XR community event was a fantastic day providing a unique opportunity to connect with colleagues using XR in Wales.  

“What stood out for me was the genuine community spirit – everyone coming together to learn, share their expertise and experiences and help and inspire each other.”  

Hands-on experience 

The event kicked off with Cardiff University, which delivered a hands-on session on 360- degree filming and editing, which was used in the creation of its ‘virtual hospital’. As well as hearing best practice tips, attendees had the chance to use the cameras and consider how this type of technology could be utilised in their institutions.  

NPTC Group staff brought along their AR welding kit, which they use to provide real-time feedback in a secure environment to students studying welding. This allows them to practice in a safe, more cost-effective and intuitive way.  

Nicola Brandon, digital learning and innovation manager at NPTC Group, said: 

“The event was an excellent opportunity for the digital team at NPTC Group to meet up with likeminded colleagues to share best practice on how VR and AR is being embedded into curriculum areas across Wales.  

“Realising that we are going through the VR/AR journey together and that there is no one- size- fits- all was encouraging.” 

Staff from Cardiff and the Vale College (CaVC) came equipped with their Microsoft Hololens 2 and Oculus Quest 2 VR headsets which attendees were given the chance to try, with guidance from CaVC experts.  

Coleg y Cymoedd also demonstrated how it is using VR headsets to help students gain anatomy experience, giving learners across a range of subjects, such as sports and health and social care, an interactive knowledge of the workings of the human body.  

Finally, sector experts including Richard Fullylove (Coleg y Cymoedd), Stevie Emmanuel (CaVC), Olivia Sills (Coleg Sir Gar) and Scott Jenkinson (Youth Shedz) took part in a panel session discussing the practicalities of using immersive technologies on the ground.  

Richard Fullylove, strategic ILT manager at Coleg y Cymoedd, said:  

“The success of the collaborative XR community in Wales is a testament to the power of bringing together people from different roles and institutions to work towards a common goal.  

“By combining their skills and expertise, members of the XR community in Wales have been able to drive innovation and push the boundaries of what is possible with a wide variety of XR technologies and approaches, creating new opportunities for learners and tutors alike.” 

Building digital confidence 

The aim of the day was to build confidence, and the results speak for themselves. At the start of the day attendees were asked to score their confidence in using XR equipment from one to 10. The average score across the room stood at 6.8, which is encouraging. By the end of the day, however, confidence levels across the room had soared to eight.  

Alyson Nicholson, director of Jisc Wales, said:  

“It was a great pleasure to be a part of the Jisc Wales XR community event. The enthusiasm to explore the possibilities of immersive technologies, how they can inspire and enhance teaching and learning, and how they can equip staff and students to thrive in the workplace of the future was incredibly exciting. 

“Jisc is delighted to be working with the Wales XR community, which transcends sectors, is based on trust and respect, and is working for the good of the learner. We very much look forward to sharing this journey.” 

Richard Fullylove concluded:  

“This event provided a platform for attendees to share their experiences, showcase their work, and discuss the future of XR technologies in Wales. By continuing to collaborate and push the boundaries of what is possible, the XR community in Wales is sure to make a significant impact in years to come.” 

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