ESRC Festival of Social Sciences: Urban Extravaganza 10th/11th November 17

As part of the ESRC Festival of Social Sciences, come and visit our exhibit showcasing some of our students’ work in the Winter Gardens, Sheffield on Friday 10th and Saturday 11th November 2017.

As part of an evolving urban design postgraduate curriculum, students have seen augmented and virtual reality technologies  embedded into their learning experience. Urban Design students are exploring the use of virtual and augmented reality as both a tool for design and as a public participation tool for consultation, to emulate the emerging use of these technologies by the urban design and planning industry.

Book now to experience for yourself some of our students urban recreations through the medium of virtual reality!

Click here to book


Student impact: What do our students think?

Our students have worked hard over the last 6 months, to accommodate the use of virtual and augmented reality in their learning, teaching and assessment and have produced some fantastic results.

We wanted to find out their thoughts on the experience and what applications they see for this technology in their own careers and employability prospects.

With thanks to the following students for their contributions:

Nicholas Garside
Andreea Comanici
Charlotte van der Lijn
Chander Aggarwal
Ana Monsalve

Thank you also to Ralph Mackinder, Media Unit Manager (School of Architecture) for recording, producing and editing this short film.

Augmented Reality poster – find out where we’re up to

We’ve had a busy few months since we last posted and thought it about time we brought everyone up to date with the story so far.

Despite what the lack of blog posts might suggest, we’ve had an incredibly productive few months with our students and since the beginning of July we’ve attended a number of Higher Education conferences presenting about the project.

As is the nature of this project we have been innovating with our presentation techniques too.

170701 final poster

The image above is a digital version of a printed A0 poster we recently displayed at the University of Sheffield TELFest Conference on 7th July 2017. The poster has been digitally enabled with the augmented reality app Layar. This means that when you scan the poster using the mobile Layar app (available to download for Android or iOS here) the poster comes to life with videos, audio, models and all sorts of digital artefacts we’ve collected throughout the course of the project.

We wanted a really interesting way for the project to come to life for conference delegates, and in a way which embodied some of the technologies we have been encouraging our students to experiment with.

We were really pleased with the results and hope you enjoy finding out about the progress of our project through our poster too.


Give it a go and let us know what you think!


Job Opportunity for PhD Student

HEFCE Project

Developing Design Consultants of The Future; Embedding Virtual & Augmented Reality in Learning & Teaching

Would you like to work as a ‘Research Assistant’?

Job Opportunity for PhD Student

The Department of Urban Studies and Planning would like to employ a PhD student to work with to work with Dr. Bobby Nisha, Samuel Dent (Strategy, Projects and Governance) and Bryony Olney in undertaking a small project embedding augmented reality in learning and teaching. 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 ways with stakeholders.

The job will run from 30th June 2017 – 20th Dec 2017 will pay £13.71 per hour for what is expected to be at least 100 hours. The work will be spread out evenly so not to negatively impact on studies, although in line with the project plan there may be some fixed deadlines for evaluation the successful candidate will be asked to meet – These will be discussed with you following appointment.

The job:

The project will employ a PhD researcher to assist in organising a series of focus groups, interviews and data capture activities from student groups that will aim to understand the impact of VR and AR learning activities/assessments on PG students. The tasks will include supporting ethical approval, advertising and recruiting student participants, conducting focus groups, and some coding and analysis of data under the supervision of Dr. Bobby Nisha and Samuel Dent.

Typical responsibilities include the following:

  • Recruit student participants
  • Research and collect data through various methods such as Focus groups, structured interviews, or other project specific methodology like cognitive mapping.
  • Maintain accurate records of focus groups, interviews, safeguarding the confidentiality of subjects, as necessary
  • Request or acquire equipment or supplies necessary for conducting the focus groups/interviews
  • Summarize interviews
  • Coding data in line with established research framework.
  • Interpret, synthesizes and analyses data. (With assistance)
  • Manage and respond to project related email
  • Attend project meetings
  • Schedule, organize and report on status of research activities.



Subject knowledge and oral/written communication skills to discuss and document research progress. Ability to work independently, accurately and to problem solves technical and methodological issues that arise during the course of the research. Ability to apply sound research techniques, methodology and logical critical analysis when transcribing and coding data. Strong organization and interpersonal skills.

Dr. Bobby Nisha and Samuel Dent will manage the project tasks and provide necessary guidance to the student. Help in understanding the project’s aims and objectives will be provided, as will advice and guidance on how to undertake the key tasks of the role. The research assistant will be expected to work using their own initiative, but regular meetings with the project team will be arranged to set tasks and priorities, review progress and offer support. Experience in social research methods is essential, and a background in education studies, or sociology is desirable.


Subject to experience and skills, the student researcher will be paid a standard hourly rate under the University’s Casual Worker arrangements (see The rate would be consistent with roles where the worker applies ‘a detailed understanding of an area of work & its principles supported by relevant experience / qualifications’ (currently £13.71/hr).  The student researcher must be eligible to work under the Casual Worker arrangements.

As this is a paid position candidates must demonstrate eligibility to work in the UK, and that this post is suitable within any visa conditions, in line with University HR procedures.


Application Process

You can apply for this job by sending an email to Dr. Bobby Nisha and Samuel dent that includes a CV and a 500 word personal statement. Your personal statement should explain why you’re interested in applying for this job and what skills and experience makes you a suitable candidate.   The deadline for applications is Monday 26th June at 5pm

The interviews will take place on the 29rd of June.

All questions or queries relating to the job and the application process can be directed to Dr. Bobby Nisha and Samuel Dent.







Reflections on Student Collaboration: Student Insight (2)

Chander Kant - Chander Kant AggarwalChander Kant Aggarwal is a postgraduate student studying the MA in Urban Design & Planning with us in the Department of Urban Studies & Planning at the University of Sheffield.

As a Student Ambassador for the “Developing Design Consultants of the Future” Project, Chander shares with us his experience of contributing towards the progress of the project so far.

The project “Developing Design Consultants of the Future” initiated by the University of Sheffield has immense potential and could be a turning point in the way design consultants perform at present. My engagement with this project introduced me to the various options to visualize an urban design or architectural project while at its design stage. It would not only improve the design process and outcomes for consultants but would also be beneficial for their clients. The possibility to visualize the project much before the implementation would encourage clients and enhance their trust for their designers. All this would be experienced using Virtual and Augmented reality, the platforms I am working on.

Virtual reality is experiencing the design by the physical walk through in real time produced by computer simulation. This experience is imitated by creating 3D models and using them with modern equipment like Head Mounted Displays (such as HTC Vive, Oculus etc.) or simply with Google Cardboard and a mobile. Augmented Reality is the easy way to see the 3D model over a plan and experience various spaces in relation to the plan. It can be simply achieved by creating a 3D model, linking to its plan by way of a tracker and finally hovering mobile/tablet over the plan to see it come to life in 3D.

There have been various online platforms enabling the 3D models created with different softwares to be visualized in VR or AR. I have been involved in testing several platforms and their compatibility with various 3D softwares. For the same, I used my previous architectural and urban design projects which helped me realize the practical issues and the need to rethink various elements. Thus, these will help save cost, time and labour on site if such issues are discovered and resolved much before its implementation.

In the present techie-scenario, the technology and the web services have made such experiences accessible at ease. Moreover at the University of Sheffield, with their huge services in this field, it should prove to be very beneficial for its students. Specifically, for students who find themselves in a difficult position to imagine 3-dimensional volumes, human scale, proportions and aesthetics, the use of VR and AR would support their design understanding. Once these get embedded into the learning and teaching methods for emerging designers, it would empower them and hence enhance a generation of designers.

I am glad to be associated with this emerging technology that adds to my architectural and planning background. Further, it would help me enhance my professional proficiency and provide me with a chance to bring a change as an Urban Designer. Architectural/urban projects relates not only to designers and clients but to common people and thus needs to be tested and tried in all ways before its physical transformation.  This project aims to upgrade the way a design project is developed and in my experience I found such inventiveness very crucial in the changing times.

Meet the Team

Every good project has a great team behind it, so in this blog post we introduce you to some of the key members of the inter-disciplinary project team.

The project team includes members from Urban Studies & Planning (lead Department), Computer Sciences, Engineering and Architecture.

 AMM Photo 1 Ana Maria Monsalve, Student Ambassador (Urban Studies & Planning)

As a student ambassador, I have been able to be part of the exciting process of testing 3D models in VR and AR. I have been in charge of exploring supportive software to improve the way we design the urban space. Thus, as a project assistant I have re-explored aspects of scale, proportion that before were not as approachable as they are with VR. Therefore, my purpose as ambassador consists of helping find new ways that will support students to present their ideas but also to encourage them to explore new tools that will make them more competent in their professional life.

 Bobby N Syed Mohamed Bobby Nisha, Project Lead & MA UDP Programme Director (Urban Studies & Planning)

As an Architect and Urban Designer, my approach to Design teaching begins from a position of respecting the self-expression and individuality of students to further inspire creative thinking. My research interest in Innovative models of design learning partnered me with Bryony Olney to explore the potential of virtual reality in Design learning and Teaching. As the programme Director/ module convenor my role is to embed the VR/AR technology in our design curriculum with learning tasks/assessment deliverables and create learning environments that acts as creative incubators in which learners are mentored, stimulated, provoked and engaged.

 BryonyHeadshot Bryony Olney, Project Lead & Learning Technologist (Urban Studies & Planning)

I ensure that the technical solutions we are employing are fit for purpose for teaching and learning, and offer students the best possible experience with virtual and augmented reality. This includes considering accessibility issues outside of the classroom, ease of functionality and use and maximum impact opportunities for learning. I have a hungry curiosity and interest in virtual reality, and my interest is very much grounded in the ease of usability and set up of any solution we use, as much from the teaching side as from the students!


 Chander Kant - Chander Kant Aggarwal Chander Kant Aggarwal, Student Ambassador (Urban Studies & Planning)

I am an architect and currently MA Urban Design and Planning student at TUoS with the dept. of Urban Studies and Planning. I have been working for the DDCF project as a Student Ambassador. It has been exciting to explore different interfaces of various virtual/augmented reality platforms to come up with their strengths and short comings. Experiencing architectural/urban design proposals in VR/AR helped me find generic problems a student could have while designing just in 2D plans. I am working with high hopes to upgrade the way consultants and clients visualize their projects.

 Michael Croucher Mike Croucher, EPSRC Research Software Engineering Fellow (Computer Science)

As part of Sheffield’s Research Software Engineering function I am providing a fully automated photogrammetry workflow which uses High Performance Computing facilities to turn a set of photographs of an area into a 3D model. Future developments will include making use of public cloud computing facilities and giving students more in-depth knowledge of what is possible when you combine simple computer programming with state of the art software and high performance computing facilities.

 Ralph-1000x500 Ralph Mackinder, Media Unit Manager (Architecture)

My Role on the project has been both Technical and Strategic. I’ve worked to develop the concept of virtual environments, from capture all the way to delivery of user experiences utilising the latest VR technology.  I’ve worked with project team members to develop a fast and efficient workflow that allows students to create photorealistic modelling that can be interacted with in a virtual reality environment. This photogrammetry-based approach combines my background in photography with an emerging specialism in VR and AR.  A really fun and challenging project to be involved in!

 IMG_20160812_162141 - Robert V Stacey Rob Stacey, Teaching Technician (Multidisciplinary Engineering Education)

 I have been responsible for the design and construction of a mobile virtual reality systems solution, enabling the virtual reality equipment to be used just about anywhere! I designed and built the entire system from scratch, from a rough sketch on a piece of paper to designing it in CAD, specifying the components required and, before making that virtual design a reality, building and piecing it together, making good use of the equipment available in the Diamond laboratories including the Laser cutters and 3D Printers.

 Samuel Dent Samuel Dent, Project Manager (Strategy, Planning, Governance & Change)

Samuel is a project manager in the office for Strategy, Planning, Governance and Change. Sam’s role is to support the project team to achieve their vision for the project, and maximise its impact, and support timely delivery. Sam has financial oversight of the project, supporting good governance and evaluation, and maximising the HE sector-wide impact and dissemination of the projects deliverables.

Reflections on Student Collaboration: Student Insight


AMM Photo

Ana Maria Monsalve is a postgraduate student studying the MA in Urban Design & Planning with us in the Department of Urban Studies & Planning at the University of Sheffield.

As a Student Ambassador for the “Developing Design Consultants of the Future” Project, Ana shares with us her experience of contributing towards the progress of the project so far.

During the few last months, I have been working on this project, experimenting with Virtual Reality and Augmented Reality, which I’ve found to offer diverse ways to approach the design of the urban space. I can say that the process I adopt to conceive and develop my designs have been changed and enriched by its use.  The senses, the proportions and the human scale experienced with this technology have given me the opportunity to test my projects and the chance to rethink particular design features over again.

After working for three years in the area of architecture and returning to the University to begin my postgraduate study, different expectations are being fulfilled. I have the chance to complement theoretically, the area of design that I have always felt passionate about, but also I am using new tools and developing new skills which will assist me be more competent in my professional life. Thus, I believe that the University is carrying out a useful experiment that as an institution, will improve the way Urban Design can be approached.

In regards to my personal participation in the project, I have been involved in the testing of three different aspects: Photogrammetry, Virtual Reality and Augmented Reality.  Each area constitutes and improves particular issues that, as students, we can face during the design process.  I found Photogrammetry, for instance, an outstanding tool which will enrich the process of the analysis of a place. It gives the chance to experiment again, with a 3D model, the space visited and explore in detail physical aspects that might have been forgotten. Additionally, as the process consists of a precise method, the student becomes more aware of the surrounding space during this procedure.

Virtual reality, on the other hand, gives us the opportunity to try our proposals in human scale. Most of the visualisation software that supports VR, such as SketchFab, have practical interfaces to use, and can be viewed with accessible accessories like the Google Cardboard, meaning that students will be able to try them either in their homes or at the university.  Concepts that are always taught in the classroom could now be tested and re-explored outside of it. Different contextual aspects such as lighting and shadows, night and day experience, the enclosure of the urban space among others features could improve the process and the result of our designs.

Finally, Augmented Reality is an extraordinary tool to show the entire spatial conception of a proposal at a smaller scale. The tool helps to visualise a project with a 3D model that either the students or the teacher can use at any moment with their phones or tablets.  In my personal experience, it supports the understanding of large-scale urban proposals giving the user the opportunity to appreciate the project from an bird’s eye view, with the opportunity to zoom in to a particular area of the project; a function that a 2D image of a 3D model cannot support.

In my opinion, the testing 3D models using VR and AR software needs to continue to be an important aspect of our university research. Students must continue to be involved in this kind of initiative that improves and strengthens the process of designing and understanding the urban space. The search for new ways of understanding the urban space will never conclude as such aspects as dynamics, users, and temporalities are always transforming the way we perceive the urban space.

I prefer to think of it as Teachknowledgy

So time to place my cards on the table… I’m not technical, though I have “Technologist” in my job title, so I prefer to think of it as “Teachknowledgy” instead. Most of my days are spent living as an “imposter” to coin the phrase of clinical psychologists Pauline Clance and Suzanne Imes. I mean don’t get me wrong, I can find my way round a PC or a tablet, I successfully operate with an environment steeped in technology but I still get cold sweats if I see pile of cables, fear the day I get asked fix the display on a projector and can barely identify an HDMI connector. True dat.

So why on earth am I a Learning Technologist, and more so, involved in a project which makes use of such boundary pushing consumer technology as virtual reality? In a recent white paper The Future of Learning Technology in UK Higher Education, a joint paper published by Microsoft Surface and the Association of Learning Technologies, Learning Technologists were described as being actively involved in managing, researching, supporting and enabling learning with the use of technology (Microsoft Surface 2017). Whilst I may not particularly technical I am curious and passionate about learning; how people learn; how the experience can be improved; the subtle shifts in the way people learn, consume and process knowledge and skills alongside changing cultural shifts and paradigms, and of course interwoven into this is the impact technology has on people’s access to knowledge, their ability and requirement to retain and apply this knowledge and more broadly the general competencies that are now required to operate within an ever technologically evolving world. In short, future digital literacies.

I think back to my own learning experiences whilst at University and before, during the cusp of the internet revolution during the 1990s. I was lucky enough to have lived in a household of early internet adopters in the early 1990s due to the nature of my father’s work and I remember that my first school project on Beethoven when I was 12, was both word processed and researched using the internet, a cumbersome process entailing a painfully slow early dial-up connection and the use of boolean search terms on a yet to be defined search engine. The resulting information was displayed, black text on white background without images much in the way you might access information from an encyclopaedia which had been my main source of “verified” knowledge up to this point. I stress the term “verified” carefully as I believe one of the most profound impacts on learning that the rise in the internet is the sheer volume of information now available and at speed, to a much wider audience. Whilst valid arguments regarding the documentation of historical events from single perspectives have been around for a while, the idea of critical thinking tended to operate only in the realm of academia. However, everyday consumers of internet content need to think critically about the content they are reviewing, understanding and making value judgements about its provenance. Think “Post Truth”. The need to filter, question and critically evaluate at a much earlier age is just one example of a key paradigm shift in the way people learn in the context of advancing technological environment and it is these subtleties that fascinate me about using technology for learning. To quote Microsoft Surface again, learning technology is not a simple application of computer science to education or vice versa. To me, my role as a Learning Technologist is about understanding the wider context of world, how technology is making an impact on the way we operate as human beings, to explore what this means for us in the way we think and approach problems and to harness technology to better prepare our students for a digital thinking in a digital world, assisting academic and teaching staff to incorporate approaches to enhance digital literacy into their delivery.

The use of Virtual, Augmented and Mixed Realities is just another example of the way technology can have a tangible impact on the way human beings think and approach spatial design challenges and it is more than an emerging trend adopted by organisations in and on the periphery of the built environment industry. Ultimately urban design and planning is a wicked problem which needs to pay due consideration to the competing priorities of a multitude of stakeholders, but the resulting solutions are still very subjective. Urban Designers need to be afforded methods which allows them to develop the deepest understanding of their stakeholder needs and to place themselves in their shoes. Equally, they need methods which allow them the best opportunities to convey their solutions to their stakeholders which mitigates against design concepts which are lost in translation using current methods of 2D plans, 3D models depicted in 2D media or at best 3D “fly throughs” on computer or TV screens. But as humans we are emotionally connected to our environments through sensory exploration and response and though we may logically comprehend a plan for a new city development that is presented to us on paper or on screen, we really want to know how it will feel to experience walking down that street on a beautiful summer day, or run down the street to catch a bus on a cold winter evening. What about the unplanned spaces between buildings, the voids that have no purpose – how do they make us feel about the area, do we feel safe and if we don’t, what can we do?

Now Virtual Reality in its current form, cannot come close to addressing all of these requirements for sensory stimulation however I believe it’s a step in the right direction. It offers immersion and a sense of presence (though there is academic debate on the extent to which authentic presence is felt in a synthetic environment).  More importantly, for the first time it allows the designers and stakeholders to experience plans at full human scale; in itself a shift worthy of note.

Bryony Olney

Learning Technologist

DDCF @ The Transport Systems Catapult (TSC)’s visualisation laboratory

The academia/industry divide is a much talked about issue and with the dawn of new age technology, along with the possibilities and opportunities they offer, it is important for the curriculum to embed and reinvent itself to serve the needs of our changing futures. The DDCF is seeking to revolutise the design curriculum by integrating and utilising Virtual Reality (VR) as a learning and teaching tool/enabler. Industry has been quick in realising the potential of VR and embraced the use of this immersive visualisation technology in stakeholder engagement. Immersive reality is growing in popularity and it has made its mark in the gaming sector, and with industries such as marketing, real estate, engineering and retail exploring its opportunities. With the aspirations to embed the potential of this technology in learning and teaching the DDCF project team reached out to the industry to get a glimpse of the innovations taking place. This is a blog piece on the project DDCF project team’s visit to the Transport Systems Catapult Innovation Centre in Milton Keynes (
The Transport Systems Catapult (TSC)’s visualisation laboratory is the UK’s first facility dedicated to the research and development of virtual reality for transport systems, to meet the intelligent mobility needs of the future. As we were greeted by Ryan Johnston (Graduate Technologist and GIS engineer), he talked us through their interesting work on how their team is investigating the potential of  VR technology as a tool for strategic transport, planning and design. The simulations demonstrated to us how VR can facilitate transport designers and decision makers to make predictive simulations and make informed decisions. For DDCF, this further sparked ideas of potential collaborative student projects between our MA Urband Design & Planning and the MSc in Applied GIS students, and data mapping simulations in the urban design process. 
Bryony Olney our Learning technologist was first to interact with in the virtual reality environment. The technology enables the user to reach out and touch virtual objects (maybe, we shouldn’t mention the number of times she dropped that book on the floor! But those gestures with which she picked it up deserves a special mention!). The demos inspired ideas to engage students in learning activities set up in a virtual environment as it is a means by which the change they propose to built spaces can get experienced in an immersive way in real time. 
Bobby Nisha our Programme Director for the MA in Urban Design and Planning course experienced a demo of a walk around the simulated Milton Keynes environment with an HTC Vive. The omni-deck user’s movements are tracked with the Opi track system within the VR environment. This meant walking on the omni-deck and moving around (for real) in a virtual(ly) real Milton Keynes. Though cognition knows that bumping into someone or a car running into you is not possible in a virtual environment, it was quite a sight to see Nisha react on instinct to move away from the virtual person. Here is a short video of Nisha tialing the floor. There is immense potential to tap in to the domains of experiential learning especially when it comes to design. VR enables non-designers to understand and grasp the concept of shape/form/volume intuitively and for this reason immersive visualisation can be a powerful learning and teaching medium in design education. DDCF is working towards making this a reality by embedding immersive visualisation in urban design teaching. 
We take the opportunity to thank the Transport Systems Catapult for meeting us and helping inspire us to develop our ideas further in regards to collaborative opportunities for our students. DDCF would like to especially thank Ryan Johnston ( Graduate technologist, GIS Engineer), Martin Pett ( Visualisation Team lead) and Michael Calver ( senior technologist) for taking time to talk to us about their projects and applications of VR within industry.

USPSheffield to pioneer virtual/augmented reality technologies in urban design teaching

Students will soon be creating virtual solutions to real life planning problems as part of an innovative learning & teaching project embedding cutting-edge visualisation technology in the Department’s learning and teaching.

Bryony Olney and Dr Bobby Nisha from the Department will lead the 18 month project entitled ‘Developing Design Consultants of the Future: Embedding Augmented Reality in Learning & Teaching’. The project has received £50,000 worth of funding from the Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE). It will see students on this year’s MA Urban Design and Planning course pilot using augmented, virtual and mixed reality technologies as part of their studies. These technologies will allow them to create immersive visualisations of their designs, viewed through virtual reality headsets, to accurately simulate solutions for real life planning issues.

Bryony Olney, Learning Technologist, said: “We are starting to see the adoption of these types of immersive technologies within the industry.

“We hope this project will provide students with a glimpse of its potential and the skills to prepare them for the new and exciting ways the planning and design industry is starting to engage with stakeholders and end users.”

Dr. Bobby Nisha, Programme Director of MA Urban Design and Planning, said “The project is firmly centred on enhancing the learning experience for students and ensuring the curriculum of design education is upbeat with cutting edge technology.

“The interdisciplinary approach combines cognitive research on perception of space, design psychology, learning pedagogies and technology. With this we can contribute to enhanced design learning in terms of comprehension and expression, where a student with immersive learning can shift base from being a passive recipient to active participant and co-producer of the learning resource.”