Teacher: Prof. Erwin Huang
Department: Division of Integrative Systems and Design, Hong Kong University of Science and Technology (HKUST)
With the belief that entrepreneurship cannot be taught, Prof. Erwin Huang, Adjunct Professor in the Division of Integrative Systems and Design at HKUST, is enthusiastic about creating a learning environment that nurtures students’ entrepreneurial spirit. In his course “ENTR3100 Industrial Landscape: Understanding the Elements to Start a Business”, he incorporated experiential learning by using Virtual Reality technology for students to explore issues in selected industries.
Under the theme of “The Future of Education" in the last semester, students applied their skillsets with the Design Thinking model to investigate difficulties encountered by different populations in the education sector. Meanwhile, VR materials and activities are adapted for students to gain first-hand experience on the topic. “Students should be learning the technology and tools with purpose. We want to make their learning applicable to solve real-life problems.” Prof Huang commented. “Simultaneously, they are experiencing the future of education.”
Throughout the course, each student was given an Oculus to participate in various VR teaching and learning activities, including meetings, workshops, and assignments. The content and tasks are chopped into small chunks to make the experience less intimidating and more empowering, especially for students who were new to VR and less tech-savvy. These bite-sized incentives allow students to familiarize themselves with the tools. It is also an immersive experience which lifted the sense of presence among students and prompted active participation in the synchronized Zoom classes during COVID time.
By the end of the course, students presented their group projects through Spatial, a 3D virtual world which provides space for creation. Prof. Huang pointed out that the 3D virtual environment enables greater flexibility for students to organize and present their work. He elaborated, “It is like transforming a 2D portfolio into a 3D gallery tour. Not only do students need to prepare the content, but they also need to consider order, spacing, and how the work is presented. It transformed their thinking and storytelling from linear to a web-like network with depth.” Students can also create freely in a greater variety of formats exceeding the limitations of the physical world.
This VR practice received positive responses. Students revealed that not only did VR provide an immersive and authentic learning environment than online lectures, but it also allowed them to share a virtual space to co-create. Surprisingly, VR is also preferred over in-person lessons. Students reported that phones and PCs often distract them from class, whereas the Oculus (immersive VR) created a natural barrier for them not affected by the disturbances.
Despite its challenging logistic arrangements and the hygiene concern, Prof. Huang remarked that it is worth arranging such an innovative and engaging experience for students. He is also excited to expand the use of VR to promote personal exploration as it provides individuals with space to explore and create.