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Augmented virtuality

Dr Sasha Nikolic
School of Electrical, Computer and Telecommunications Engineering

Making classrooms accessible online

When Dr Sasha Nikolic joined UOW in 2006 as a staff member he was determined to improve the educational experience for engineering students. More than a decade later, his priority remains the same and his work has come to focus on using innovative teaching methods in the classroom as well as measuring the student’s learning experience.

Dr Nikolic has mapped student evaluation scores to implement systems and processes that ensure quality laboratory experiences.

“By understanding the variables that influence the way students evaluate and perceive learning, we can improve teaching effectiveness,” he says.

When it comes to innovative technology methods, Dr Nikolic has used technology-enhanced learning in a variety of ways and has successfully introduced augmented virtuality technology into the classroom.

“Compared to 2D environments, 3D augmented virtuality allows multiple conversations at once, the freedom for participants to move between conversations, and most importantly includes a video feed to represent each participant’s avatar. This approach enables a conversation in which body language and facial expressions, which are vital for effective communication, can be seen.”

Using a software platform, iSee, which is based on the technology, Dr Nikolic has brought students across multiple campuses together with industry representatives and other subject-matter experts. In one case study, first-year engineering undergraduate and postgraduate coursework students were brought together via a virtual careers fair with UOW alumni presenting on various engineering disciplines.

“The point was to provide exposure to Australian engineering professionals and to educate students about the industry,” Dr Nikolic says.

Students were encouraged to network with the alumni, asking questions that would develop their understanding of job prospects, career paths, the engineering profession, and the relationship between learning at university and work.

“The physical equivalent of such an event can be logistically challenging and expensive to implement.”

The iSee software has also been used to run a Transnational & Industry Entrepreneurial Pitches program where teams pitched concepts for innovative projects to industry representatives and students from both Wollongong and Dubai campuses in a format resembling a trade fair or exhibition.

The iSee software was used to address logistical problems in getting students across campuses and members from industry to participate in learning activities simultaneously.

“Students found the advice from industry professionals invaluable to them as they continued to refine and develop their product ideas and designs. Ninety per cent of the students and 100 per cent of industry participants wanted to repeat the activity in the future.”

In addition to his work as a lecturer and his investment in bringing augmented virtuality technology into the classroom, Dr Nikolic is currently the Chair of the NSW section of the IEEE, the world’s largest technical professional organisation dedicated to advancing technology for the benefit of humanity, and is working to bring a flagship IEEE Asia-Pacific engineering and technology education conference to Wollongong in December. He is a member of the UOW team behind the Dementia Enabling University Strategy.

“I received funding to integrate dementia awareness activities into engineering subjects,” Dr Nikolic explains, adding that for his part of the project he engaged students through an engineering subject.

“Students were divided into teams and were asked to conceptualise and develop solutions for people living with dementia,” he says.

“The goal was to encourage awareness of what dementia is and to initiate a process in which students can think about the problems that people with dementia might face and develop products and solutions to counter this.”