Cross-campus virtual classrooms bring Massey 'wow factor'
Futuristic virtual classrooms have become a reality for students who can now share their learning using video technology at two of Massey University's campuses.
Massey's prototype Video Link Teaching (VLT) rooms are a one-off design by a Wellington developer for use across the university's three campuses in Palmerston North, Wellington and Albany.
In its trial phase, lecturers at Massey's Palmerston North and Albany campuses used the VLT rooms for 25 live sessions without a glitch.
There are also plans to use the VLT rooms in Wellington.
Dr Brennan Wood, who teaches sociology at the Palmerston North campus, likened it to a "living classroom" that blends two rooms into one.
"You have a life-size projection of the class on the wall so that you have a seamless experience of one class merging into the other."
He said the experience of virtual teaching was quite surreal.
"The thing that really struck me is that I have spent three months talking to a wall."
Each VLT room used in the trials contained four cameras, five portable screens and flexible furniture, and could connect up to 60 people between university classrooms, potentially worldwide.
The technology was different to conventional video conferencing, Dr Wood said.
Wall-to-wall high definition images and the use of tablets in the classrooms enabled participants to stream Youtube videos or load digital presentations on to the big screen to be shown to more than one campus.
Vice-Chancellor Steve Maharey said the new technology had a "wow factor", which pushed the boundaries of classroom engagement.
"It challenges us to re-think the way we teach to meet the needs of 21st century learners."
The technology also provided the capacity for "team teaching", he said.
Dr Wood said teaching virtually also had implications for students who were studying extramurally.
The technology could become an alternative to needing to travel for classes and could "conquer the distance."
Fourth year engineering student Dave Blackwell found the Video Link technology experience to be more interactive than video conferencing.
"There's a virtual presence, it's animated and lifelike and makes it easier to engage," Mr Blackwell said.
"You get a lot more out of it. I've got more enthusiasm to engage in it."