Since opening in 1996, the University of the Sunshine Coast (USC) strives to provide exceptional research and educational experiences for their students. The public university is based in the Sunshine Coast in Queensland, Australia. In September 2015, USC opened a $37 million multi-purpose building packed with world-class technology. Part of this building includes its Engineering Learning Hub (ELH). A research and education complex, ELH boasts immersive and collaborative visualization facilities designed for education and real-world application. Several months of planning culminated in the design and commissioning of a CAVE2, Advanced Computing Laboratory, and Collaboration Studio.
Enhanced Learning in the CAVE2
Armed with immersive data interaction and manipulation, limitless collaboration opportunities, and an excitement to learn, USC students use the CAVE2 to harness their creativity and accelerate innovation and learning. Through these tactics, professors have seen:
- Increased student engagement
- A deeper understanding of challenging concepts
- An ability to understand information faster
For example, engineering students experience situations and environments across the world virtually. As part of an Engineers Without Borders project, students and lecturers walked through the simulated African village of Bambui, Cameroon, to understand situational challenges, sanitation problems, and hazardous living conditions. As lecturers give guided tours and students explore on their own, individuals create innovative solutions to enhance the lives of the inhabitants.
Collaborative Learning and Advanced Computing
Students enter into the Collaboration Studio for a class. They divide into 12 groups of 5 each, sharing a computer space and looking at the 18-panel display wall. Throughout the class, the professor elaborates on challenging concepts using stereoscopic visualization on the large display. He encourages groups to share ideas and concepts relating to the coursework, utilizing Mechdyne’s Meeting Canvas software to display group work from their computer space onto the large panel wall for class discussion. On occasion, remote guest lecturers from other universities present to the students via video conferencing.
In more challenging classes, professors have created interactive simulations to help students master challenging material. For example, in USC’s engineering statics course, professors noticed a trend of difficult concepts for students to understand. Through careful class planning, professors and developers create simulations and demonstrations—such as 3D force vectors and force distribution diagrams—to enrich the learning experience utilizing getReal3D for Unity. If desired, the professors can translate these simulations into the CAVE2 for a more immersive experience. In other situations, professors utilize Google Earth to demonstrate environmental impacts or virtually review a mechanical engineering design.
The Advanced Computing Laboratory is a development and test system to support content creation for the CAVE2 and Collaboration Studio. Because the Collaboration Studio is almost always booked with classrooms and the CAVE2 is reserved for research and education, the ELH provides additional resources for content development. Within the Lab, developers work fluidly to keep content current for professors to utilize in the ELH.
Engagement and Excitement
When students break free of traditional textbook learning and lecture formats, they become highly engaged in their learning. One of the most enriching aspects of immersive learning is the ability to manipulate data on the spot. Students perceive the smallest structures or large landmasses with ease. They share experiment findings and creatively solve problems.
As USC becomes more confident in their new technology, they will open the CAVE2 to other departments, providing an innovative environment to study geospatial datasets, analyze fluid dynamics, virtually review architectural designs and processes, and enhance anatomical studies through virtual surgeries and exploration.