The University of Queensland (UQ) is a research-intensive institution, ranked in the top 50 universities world-wide, and offering choice and opportunity in undergraduate and postgraduate learning. UQ’s technology team was exploring ways they could help lecturers and teaching staff provide an enhanced learning experience and better student outcomes. At the same time, Professor Kim Bryceson of the School of Agriculture and Food Sciences at UQ had been grappling with the large amount of data that was being produced by an Internet of Things (IoT) sensor network on the UQ Gatton Campus. Data was being presented in a plain text format in a spreadsheet which was a barrier to students’ understanding and engagement. This barrier was, and remains important to overcome as the Australian agricultural sector as a whole is facing the broad challenge of engaging with young people to attract them to the sector, as well as addressing the needs of successful agribusinesses for new technological skills in data management.
- UQ was looking for new ways to increase student engagement, and meet the educational needs for technology skills needed to be successful in agri-business.
- The average age of people in the food production sector across the world has increased significantly over the last 20 years, and the number of farmers in Australia has been declining for many decades. It is difficult to attract young people, whether they come from a rural background or not, into agriculture and related areas.
UQ were introduced to Telstra Purple, who specialise in delivering innovative software solutions to solve complex problems. Telstra Purple and UQ worked together to identify the key challenges and how augmented reality could help solve them. The aim for UQ and Telstra Purple’s initial partnership was to increase the number of students attending lectures and create a more engaging learning experience. UQ and Telstra Purple worked on a proof of concept (POC) solution, developing an app and using augmented reality through HoloLens for teachers and students at the Gatton Campus.
As part of the process we:
- Developed an app where students learned about treating waste water to remove effluent and produce clean water. Through the app, students were presented with a fish farm simulation where they needed to react to dead and dying fish. Students would use HoloLens to view a 3D representation of the data in a mixed reality environment, gamifying the learning experience.
- Enabled students to achieve their learning objectives by linking to an assignment associated with the content. This enabled a judgement to be made around the student’s ability to identify the problems from the simulation, understand the broader issues relating to these problems, and be able to make recommendations for fixing the problem.
- Created an interesting learning environment, including visualising chemicals that students usually can’t see.
The POC showed that augmented reality appears to be highly successful in engaging students in learning experiences. “Instead of just looking at a spreadsheet, students can play the app, see what's happening scientifically, and do things to manage the environment in real time," explained Professor Kim Bryceson, an agribusiness researcher with the University of Queensland. “Augmented reality is allowing us to engage students in different ways, and to visualise lots of relatively boring data in really interesting ways. Students learn about something without really realising that they're learning,“ said Kim. UQ and Telstra Purple are now refining the proof of concept classroom with improved data modelling and graphics to make it ready for a wider rollout. “The partnership with industry has been gratifying and really successful," said Rob Moffatt, AM, Chief Information Officer, The University of Queensland. “That's because of the commitment from Telstra Purple, who saw the potential to use the technology at the University and to introduce other technologies at the University for similar purposes. We will test the boundaries with this technology as best we can,“ said Rob.
Lessons learnt along the way
The partnership between Telstra Purple, and the University of Queensland has turned what started as a broad idea into a usable, effective learning tool.
- Augmented reality has helped UQ engage students in new ways, creating a fun learning environment while preparing students for the future in agribusiness.
- Developing the application for the easily programmable, user-friendly HoloLens augmented reality platform allowed project staff to focus on maximising usability and educational value.
- Students using the system have gained a view of the impact of environmental and scientific changes on the health of aquatic ecosystems.