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Four reasons to use serious games, simulations and virtual worlds for education and training

It’s easy to get carried away when it comes to serious games, simulations and virtual world technologies, but like all tools there are situations when they are and aren’t useful.

Serious games, simulations and virtual worlds are best used when traditional, real world learning methods are one or more of the following;

  1. expensive
  2. dangerous
  3. logistically impossible
  4. boring

Let’s examine each of these points.

1.  Expensive

With the cost of real world materials going up, and the cost of digital content going down, cost is increasingly a good reason to use serious games and simulations.

One of the best and oldest examples of this is flight simulators.  With planes and fuel costing a small fortune, airlines have for many years now used simulators to train pilots.

The biotechnology simulations we have developed for Monash University and BioCSL are another example – the equipment and materials used in creating these drugs can cost millions of dollars.  By simulating these activities students and workers can get experience of these processes at a small fraction of the cost.

2.  Dangerous

After the aviation industry, the military is the second largest user of simulation and serious game technologies.  Soldiers can train for a wide variety of battle scenarios without the risk of harm to themselves or others.

Likewise our nursing simulations allow students to practice procedures such as the administration of an IV fluid without putting real patients at risk.

Our electrotechnology simulation allows students to practice installing an electrical service in a new residence without the risk of electric shock.

Learning by making mistakes can be very powerful, but in dangerous situations is often only possible with simulation or serious game technologies.

3. Logistically impossible

The third largest use of simulations and serious game technologies is in health.  Virtual patients(both physical and digital) allow students to practice a wide range of procedures which would otherwise be impossible to co-ordinate in the real world.

Our Vplay product allows GPs to practice cultural skills with a range of patients, once again learning from mistakes.  Likewise our pharmacy simulators allow students to practice making medicine in a sterile environment, something they do not have access to in the real world.

4.  Boring

Our occupational health and safety serious game, the Whitecard Game, targets young school leavers who are just starting an apprenticeship and need to learn about workplace hazards.

It’s important that this content is presented in an engaging fashion, as many of these young people do not respond well to traditional learning.   Engaging students in this manner can ensure that when they do set foot on a worksite they know what hazards to look out for.

Learner engagement is often viewed as simply making things easier for the student – but this is very important when you are considering issues like safety.

Another way we use serious games and simulations to engage learners is by putting information into context.  Our business simulations created for University of Melbourne take traditionally dry topics and wrap them in an engaging story line, engaging students and allowing them to learn through play and experience rather than simply memorising facts.

When shouldn’t I use serious games and simulations?

Your use case should match at least a few of the reasons given above.

If you find the opposite is true – perhaps these technologies are not the right solution.

For example, let’s look at the potential for a ‘how to tie your shoelace’ simulation;

  • It’s not expensive to do in the real world.  It’s free or very cheap.
  • It is not a dangerous activity.
  • It’s logistically very easy.  Shoes and laces are common and accessible.
  • It’s not something that can be made more exciting by using digital technologies – in fact doing it in the real world is much more tactile and enjoyable.

Consider your audience

Another thing to consider is your learners.  If they are not comfortable using these types of technologies then you may like to either reconsider using serious games and simulations, or factor this into your design.

For younger cohorts where we know most learners will be gamers and quite tech savvy, we often design more game like simulations which allow users to navigate the digital environment themselves.  If we were dealing with an audience with a different skill set, for example retired builders, we would consider simplifying the user interface and making navigation more automated.

In conclusion

Serious games, simulations and virtual worlds all have their uses, and most organisations should be using them a lot more for education and training.   However as with all tools, it’s best not to get too carried away by the shiny things, and to really consider the best way you can achieve your desired learning outcomes.

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VR is finally coming of age

For those of you who are very young or not so into sci-fi, the name Oztron was inspired by Tron, a 1982 movie where a computer programmer is sucked into his computer and needed to interact with the virtual world to escape.

The first time I tried to build a virtual world was back in 1999, when I attempted to build a virtual nightclub using VRML, or virtual reality modeling language.  It was way beyond me and I ended up building a somewhat less interactive online environment using flash.

In 2005 I discovered Second Life, which finally made building virtual worlds possible.  It continues to this day, however truly immersive one’s self requires quite a vivid imagination.

Throughout this time there were several VR headsets from companies like Nvidia, but they were very expensive and had a small field of view, and their use was mainly confined to university and software company laboratories.

For those of you who haven’t yet tried one, a VR headset is basically a big pair of goggles with a screen or screens where you are looking.  Put them on and you leave reality and enter ‘virtual reality.’

In 2012 the Oculus Rift came into being.  This headset, although quite clunky and low resolution, was affordable, and finally allowed the user to immerse themselves in virtual environments.  The technology was not perfect but it inspired development which is still increasing exponentially.  Oculus was bought by Facebook for $2 billion USD, which might seem like a lot.  Well, it is a lot – but try VR just once and you will understand why.

Next month, November 2015, the first consumer version VR headset will be released, the GearVR.  The GearVR is designed to work by using Samsung flagship phones, such as the Note and S series.

‘Innovator’ versions of this headset are already available in Samsung stores in Australia – they are compatible with the Note 4 and S6 and provide the smoothest and most impressive introduction to virtual reality currently available.

But now for the exciting part – over the coming months many more VR headsets will be released for the average consumer.  These headsets are more high powered than the GearVR.

  • Oculus CV1, now backed by Facebook – available Q1 2016 (requires PC)
  • HTC Vive, a collaboration between HTC and Valve Corporation – available Xmas 2015, full release Q1 2016 (requires PC)
  • Project Morpheus, a Playstation compatible headset developed by Sony – available Q1 2016 (requires PS4)
  • Microsoft Hololens, combining virtual reality with augmented reality – developer version available Q1 2016 (requires PC)

The world as we know it is about to change.  For the better?  Yes, absolutely!

Imagine being able to attend any event in the world, live.

Imagine being able to travel without leaving your lounge room.

Imagine not just watching a movie, but being one of the characters in it.

VR is going to be to television what television was to radio and photographs.

If you haven’t tried it – give us a call and I am happy to come and show you the GearVR.   It’s an experience you won’t forget.

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EduTech Showcase at AOGP

Today Paul Staubli and I joined Obvious Choice and Brightcookie at Adelaide To Outback GP Training to present a range of innovative educational technologies to representatives from many GP training organisations from around Australia.

We ran two stations – the first focused on virtual reality featuring a couple of GearVR headsets, and the second looked at our work with virtual worlds and patients.

It was great to spend a day with such an intelligent and curious group of people.

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If you haven’t tried the new Samsung Gear VR – you should!

The first time we tried to build a virtual world was in the year 1999.  Attempting to use VRML to create a virtual nightclub, we soon gave up and used flash to create a very pale imitation of what was in our heads.Over the years we have continued to develop virtual worlds and simulations – on platforms/software including Second Life, Opensim, Unity, Unreal and more lately HTML5.

During this time VR has always been somewhat of a distant dream.   We have simulated immersion in every conceivable way using the technology of the time.

In the 2000s we tried a few expensive vr headsets, but the field of view, fidelity, latency, technical requirements and overall quality lead to an experience that was not immersive or affordable for other than a few industries.

Then in 2012 the Oculus Rift came around.  Although far from perfect, it was enough for us to realise that our dreams will one day come true…that it’s not all just science fiction.

DK1 was such a leap from anything that previously existed.  It inspired many other creations, such as google cardboard and many plastic versions which do a great job of turning a mobile phone into a VR device.

They certainly weren’t the first with the vision, but I thank them for their vision which has both inspired people and also pushed VR as a valid and popular technology.

The Gear VR is the first time it has felt like a finished product, a polished experience.  We have demonstrated it to everybody from my 2 year old daughter to my 94 year old grandfather and without fail they are all amazed.

It’s early days, but we look forward to seeing how we can use these technologies in education and training.

Contact us if you are interested in a demo.

William Gibson tries the Gear VR

Image – William Gibson trying the Gear VR – “They did it” – source Gizmodo

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Deep Dive @ Digital Aquarium – Swinburne University

Date: Tuesday, 25th November
Time: 1.30pm – 2.30pm

Description from the site;
Serious games and simulation can provide an experience of environments where it is not possible or practical to physically be present. In this month’s Deep Dive Innovation Event, Dale Linegar from Oztron Media will showcase examples of projects he has been involved in with other universities and conduct an interactive workshop on how games and simulation can be incorporated in learning and teaching.

Learn more

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Melbourne Virtual Reality Meetup

Yesterday I presented at the Melbourne Virtual Reality Meetup, hosted at Queens Collective on Queen Street in Melbourne.

It was inspiring to meet so many like minded individuals and to see the strength that is gathering behind the VR cause. I was invited to the event by Joel from Lobal, an old friend who is now at the head of a startup which has some very interesting ideas about virtual reality and virtual worlds.

For others interested in attending the meetups, you can check when the next one is and register at http://www.meetup.com/Melbourne-Virtual-Reality/

It seems like 2015 is going to be a very exciting year in VR.

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Photos from I/ITSEC

Orange County Convention Centre Orlando – home of I/ITSEC

Orange County Convention Centre Orlando - home of I/ITSEC

Orange County Convention Centre Orlando – home of I/ITSEC

Dale at the Whitecard Game stand

Dale at the Whitecard Game stand

Dale at the Whitecard Game stand

Students at the Whitecard Game stand

Students at the Whitecard Game stand

Students at the Whitecard Game stand

Old solutions

Old solutions

Old solutions

New solutions

New solutions

New solutions

Vision Station

Vision Station

Vision Station

Warfighters Corner

Warfighters Corner

Warfighters Corner

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Oztron partners with Victoria University to form the Serious Games Group

Since 2007 Oztron has worked on a wide range of projects both for and in partnership with Victoria University. The Serious Games Group is a representation of this partnership, which has seen the use of serious games and simulations in a wide range of areas including construction, building design, health and safety, sustainability, engineering, biotechnology, and community welfare.
The partnership’s site is located at http://seriousgamesgroup.com/ and includes case studies of projects we have collaborated on over the past few years

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Vicroads Virtual Worlds Lab

On July first 2010 we helped Mandy Salomon facilitate a ‘Virtual Worlds Lab‘ at Swinburne University for Vicroads. The aim of the day was to explore the future potential of virtual worlds. After some initial discussions, participants created ‘avatars’ and were able to experience life in a virtual environment, exploring, designing, and socialising. They were then able to attend a virtual conference and tour by the CIO of the City of Edmonton in Canada, Chris Moore.
The full blog for the day can be found here.