Virtual reality (VR) is one of the hottest technologies in the tech community.
For example, Facebook recently announced their ambitious goal to "get a billion people in VR". Computer gaming is another huge field for VR applications. Other research focuses on more serious applications such as medical therapy, for example to reduce the experience of pain through VR. The VR job market is thus set to explode over the coming years.
The University of London has recently started a new series of MOOCs (massive open online courses) that gives an introduction to VR for beginners. The course series is available as a Specialization via Coursera. The new courses do not only cover the technical side of the technology, but they also explore how the immersive experience of VR works from a psychological perspective.
"The Job Market in VR is Growing Very Rapidly"
Edukatico: Dr. Gillies, Dr. Pan, why are Virtual Reality skills such an important asset in the future job market?
Dr. Gillies / Dr. Pan: Virtual Reality has already been a research topic in the past several decades.
The difference is that it now has a much bigger market because of not only the consumer versions of VR head-mounted displays (HMDs), but also supporting technologies such as machine vision, computer graphics, AI, and tracking technology.
That means that the job market in VR is growing very rapidly as more and more companies are developing content.
In our course, we made it very clear that although the current VR mass market is led by entertainment (mainly VR games), the future of VR goes way beyond this. There are so many possible applications (and most of them not new, but previously only possible in research labs) in the area of education, medicine (therapy), and training.
We believe that VR is going to change the way we interact with the world and with each other.
Edukatico: Your online course series "Virtual Reality Specialization" on the Coursera platform explores VR skills for developers. What are the main topics participants in the course series can expect to learn about?
Dr. Gillies / Dr. Pan: There are five courses in the Specialization: Introduction to VR, 3D Models, VR Interaction, Social VR and Characters, and finally a Capstone Project.
The Specialization combines the psychology of VR (understanding how the technology creates the effects) with the technical skills of creating VR. It is about knowing what to create and how to create it.
Of course it would be very useful for game developers to take our course but we don’t think it is exclusively for developers – in fact it would be suitable for anyone interested in knowing more about VR.
For instance for the very first course (Intro to VR) you don’t even need to have [more than a basic] computer to do it. And there is no need to write any code in all the other courses – we give you step by step instructions and you can download the code we wrote. But of course you can do a lot of coding and really push yourself if you want to, or if you have the skillset.
It is important to realize that so much of it goes beyond the technical side of VR technology, but rather the history, theory, and psychology of it.
No Coding Experience or Fancy VR Equipment Required
Edukatico: Who would most likely benefit from your MOOCs and why? Is there a specific learner profile for the courses?
Dr. Gillies / Dr. Pan: We want this Specialization to be accessible to a lot of people.
The first course is really aimed at anyone who is interested in VR and wants to find out more. Ideally they will have had tried out VR, but even that isn’t essential.
The remaining courses are about creating VR experience. For those we assume that learners have some experience of digital creative work (anything from Photoshop to game design), but they can be complete beginners in 3D and VR.
The main constraint is that you have to have access to some VR equipment, and a suitable computer to develop on. Google Cardboard is enough, but you will get much more out of it if you have access to a high end kit like Oculus Rift or HTC VIVE.
One of the motivations for this course is that, recently, we had lots of questions from people working in very different areas who are interested in using VR. They are artists, philosophers, psychologists, and medical doctors. So we try to use this course to answer their questions: What is VR, how to use it, and where is it going to go.
Edukatico: Your course series ends with a Capstone Project that lets participants put their skills into practice. How does this work and what will learners create?
Dr. Gillies / Dr. Pan: To learn how to make virtual reality experiences, you really have to create them yourself.
Throughout the Specialization, students will be making mini projects to test their skills, but the final course allows them to put everything into practice by creating a larger game of their own.
We guide learners through every stage of the development process, from coming up with ideas to implementing and testing their game. All these stages apply skills learned earlier in the Specialization.
As this is the end of the Specialization, we also wanted to bring in advice from other VR creators, so we have a series of over 30 interviews with VR experts from around the world, who talk about their experiences and give advice to students.
Edukatico: Lastly, we would like to know what your expectation is from teaching an online version of this course. What are the main differences between teaching on campus and teaching online?
Dr. Gillies / Dr. Pan: This was Sylvia’s first MOOC but Marco has taught on two already. Teaching a MOOC is a very eye-opening experience: we have learned a lot about the potential of online learning and that has changed our teaching for the better.
Both of us have changed how we teach on campus to use techniques from MOOCs, like frequent quizzes, videos for flipped classrooms and a lot of peer interaction.
Edukatico: Thank you and all the best for your MOOC!
The online courses are available on the Coursera platform. You can enroll in the entire Specialization (5 courses) and get a certificate for your work. Or you can take the individual MOOCs separately and without a certificate (the courses are free to learn in the "audit" track).
Learners will use the cross-platform game engine Unity for all practical 3D development. Unity3D will also be introduced during the course.
If you would like to know more about the courses, you can also check out the introductory Q&A session by Dr. Pan and Dr. Gillies. Or just explore the courses directly in the audit track.
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