I was in an immersive room for the first time in 2018. I was a master’s student working with people dealing with trauma in their lives and I had a feeling that the people who came to visit me, in as clients, could benefit from getting up and moving. part of their therapeutic journey.
What started with sticky notes on three blank walls containing no technology has grown into Chronology – an immersive interactive mental health care experience in an extended reality. I continued this approach in my doctoral studies and the platform formed the basis of another immersive experience, this time focused on student well-being. This was named The WISE Room, its acronym representing well-being in the education of students.
This type of digital environment provides students with a space where experiential learning and teaching are accessible with the touch of a hand, via sensor controls embedded in the walls. Thanks to the room’s multisensory features, content can be viewed, listened to and used kinesthetically. The room offers personalized engagement for a single student or can be opened to the entire class, depending on its dimensions. It also gives users the opportunity to physically step back from the subject and reflect on their learning journey.
Having developed and tested two bespoke digital systems in immersive environments, there are four things to consider if you are considering creating your own.
Interdisciplinarity is the key
The WISE room is based in a 4x4m room containing three ceiling projectors. Walls are touch sensitive via hardware and software. Rooms of varying configurations are commonly used in universities and hospitals to conduct simulations, such as realistic medical scenarios.
We started with a quick prototype stage, sketching out the concept, then setting up meetings with the student wellbeing team, accessibility advisors and placement managers. This provided a better understanding of who the end users might be and what would be required of the system itself. From there, as part of a team of four academics, we designed qualitative investigations, asking the question: “What features of an immersive room would students and staff find useful in supporting emotional wellbeing , academic and internship? » We were working in the context of nursing education, which meant we also had to consider hospital or community placements which are a practical and essential addition to the curriculum.
We collected 175 face-to-face responses and, based on the data, expanded the initial vision of a wellness room to a single space where teaching and learning, as well as well-being, being and preparation for placement, could take place.
Content creation in immersive rooms
To generate content, we worked with an independent developer and rented software called Intuiface to create wireframes. This involves computer images representing a basic idea of what a final product will look like on the walls of an immersive room. The content creation stage requires a lot of scripting and design discussions.
As a multi-sensory technology, the immersive room enables anything visual, audio or haptic, expanding the scope of design possibilities in this space. It is also possible to present information chronologically, so that learners can progress from start to finish and absorb the information in small chunks. We worked with the school’s technology-enhanced learning team to create 26 videos. The overall content covered topics ranging from Maslow’s hierarchy and nutrition to information on medications, human anatomy, cognition and yoga. This could extend to anything curriculum based.
Consider results before technology
There is a trend in higher education to embrace technology in new ways. Ultimately, the WISE room is just one room. It doesn’t have to involve any form of technology to encourage action, autonomy and experiential learning. If we can first consider the spatial element, then we can thoughtfully build from it. Technological hardware may or may not be necessary to achieve the goals of immersive learning.
Prepare to iterate
We recently received funding to consider the room with neuro-inclusivity in mind. This led us to consider room features and content from a broader, cross-campus perspective, taking into account what students with varying needs might want to experience if it was their room and their daily favorite space. In this way, The WISE Room becomes wiser day by day, adapting to different user needs and integrating multiple perspectives.
Tor Alexander Bruce is an interdisciplinary researcher in hHealth and Life Sciences, Human-Computer Interaction and Human-Centered Design at the Department of Nursing, Midwifery and Health at Northumbria University.