Who funds the project?
HEFCE as part of the Catalyst Fund (http://www.hefce.ac.uk/funding/catalyst/)
What is the funding for?
The Catalyst Fund is for running small scale pilots of innovative approaches to learning & teaching. It is not a research grant but instead for testing more pragmatic delivery, where students are the immediate beneficiaries.
What is the objective of the “Developing Design Consultants of the Future” project?
The objective for the project is to introduce the use of fully immersive virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) technology at various stages of delivery of urban design teaching to increase students understanding and appreciation of such key factors as space and volume, and how students can harness the benefits of the technology to engage in different and new ways with stakeholders.
Why is this interesting and relevant?
Immersive virtual reality is growing in popularity and whilst it is viewed as being firmly in the domain of gamers, it is seeing a significant rise in industries such as marketing, retail sales, real estate and engineering for a variety of uses.
Educators are becoming interested in the application and appropriateness of VR to learning and teaching; to understand its relevance (or otherwise) to increasing students’ understanding of a range of issues. In the education sector, disciplines such as medicine, engineering and computer sciences are looking at education applications of VR to produce simulation training environments or to recreate models of artefacts to understand how things work.
In urban planning and design an interest is beginning to emerge in how this technology can be used to improve public participation and stakeholder engagement in urban planning, how it compliments BIM and what significance it has for Smart City data. We are already seeing a number of large urban planning and design consultancies explore VR including Jacobs London and Transport for London and a similar operation is being run by the Transport Systems Catapult in Milton Keynes with whom we are establishing a relationship (https://ts.catapult.org.uk/imovation-centre/the-visualisation-laboratory/).
The project is looking to introduce into learning and teaching, some of the basic concepts and considerations posed by new technological development, in line with emerging applications of it, in industry.
Who will benefit?
The immediate beneficiaries are students undertaking modules within the MA in Urban Design & Planning programme at postgraduate level. Specifically, TRP613/614 International Field Class and Urban Design in the Global South; TRP4408-6408 Advanced Urban Design Software Skills and TRP6423 Principles of Urban Design. Students expressing an interest in exploring this technology in their own independent research through the TRP6424 Dissertation will be supported and have access to the technology.
Some of the outputs of the project may also have application to other modules and activities in the wider department too. We will create a number of re-usable digital resources which provide immersive virtual experiences of the study area of the International Field Class module (particularly the area of informal housing within the study location) and virtual experiences of a variety of locations within Sheffield which may be of interest and use to students on other modules studying these areas.
Currently students create 3D models as part of their study, and we will be encouraging them to submit this is their native format for viewing rather than printing posters or submitting electronic portfolios. In much the same way as we have demonstrated students work in poster format at open days and events, we will be able to offer open days visitors an opportunity to engage with students work in a way they may never have interacted with before – from small augmented models to immersively experiencing a student’s urban design plan as a full VR experience. We hope this will bring an added dimension to open days in the future.
We hope the outputs of the project will provide an inspirational case study for other staff in the Department who might begin to see some opportunities for application in their own areas of specialism.
How is the project governed?
The project is part of a programme of Catalyst funded projects the University of Sheffield have been successful in securing in this round. The Strategy, Planning and Governance department maintain the relationship with HEFCE for other University business and as such they will be programme managing the suite of projects under this funding stream.
Operational delivery of the project in the Department will be carried out by Dr Bobby Nisha and Bryony Olney with specialist support as and when required from colleagues in Architecture, Computer Sciences and Engineering demonstrating the cross-disciplinary aspect of the project.
The project has a Steering Group whose membership is representative of a cross-section of relevant stakeholders in the project including individuals from the urban design and planning industry; experienced developers of virtual reality content; University colleagues from USP, FSS and SPG and representation from our Examinations Board and student body.
How long will the project last?
The project runs November 2016 – March 2018, however delivery of the project is in line with the academic cycle with the majority of the outputs and deliverables being scheduled for Spring Semester 2016-17. Refinements to some of our approaches will also be delivered into Autumn Semester 2017-18.
How will the findings be disseminated?
We have a responsibility to write a formal end of project report on the progress and impact of the report which will be widely available on the HEFCE website under their funded projects section. We will also submit proposals for conference presentations at a variety of appropriate conferences (including HEFCE’s own, as well as the HEA Annual Conference and the internal TUOS TELFest and L&T Conferences) following completion of the project. We will seek to document the progress of the project whilst it is underway through a project blog and social media streams, and document our findings from a learning technology and design perspective through article and journal publications as appropriate.