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XR Technologies in Biochemistry and Cell Biology Education

Updated: May 13, 2022

Case example

Teacher: Dr. Hung Kui Ngai

Department: School of Life Science, The Chinese University of Hong Kong (CUHK)


Dr. Ngai, Lecturer of the School of Life Sciences, CUHK has been dedicating his time to maxmising learning experience for students by application of extended reality (XR) technologies for Biochemistry and Cell Biology Education. Reflective of the fact that the use of animation and micro modules in teaching seems to be teacher-centred, Dr. Nagi and his team attempts to create learning materials with which enable students to interact. In the early stage of development, augmented reality (AR) technologies were adopted. This allowed students to study molecules via their mobile phones. Dr. Ngai then moved on to develop new virtual reality (VR) related contents in order to engage students in an immersive learning environment. The use of VR technologies, in particular, intends to help increase the sense of space among students when studying organs and cells in laboratories. Dr. Ngai remarked that such an adoption stands stark contrast to traditional teaching which relies on the sole use of 2D photos and that it yields two major benefits for students. First, VR can ensure students’ safety especially for culturation of cells. Second, it enhances the operation of laboratories in a real setting as VR learning materials provide students with practice beforehand. Currently, Dr. Ngai and his team is also developing mixed reality (MR) teaching contents. The use of MR technologies could help ease the dizziness some students feel for that of VR.

While applying XR technologies into Biochemistry and Cell Biology Education, Dr. Ngai explicated that there are five key points of consideration. First, it is important to identify relevant topics to be adapted to XR technologies in that resources are limited. Second, the target users of such XR learning should be considered. For example, are they going to be Year 1 or Year 3 students? Third, it is useful to reflect on whether the XR technologies will be applied to laboratory-based or lecture-based courses. This question also points to whether a teacher wants their students to acquire more skills or knowledge, or both. Fourth, teachers will also need to factor in class size, big or small, and time. Fifth, a team of technical staff will be solely needed. Dr. Ngai believes that XR technologies offer abundant opportunities for students to learn. He and his team is exploring how to bring their new ideas to fruition. Some creative ideas are (1) the inclusion of students’ performance data in the current XR learning materials, (2) developing connection with multiple users and for off-campus use, (3) adding the sense of smell into the materials so that it could enhance learning in clinical trials, and (4) the use of AI to tailor-make teaching to suit students’ learning progress.

This video features a student who is practising his laboratory skills with the VR technologies. Other students are attentive to learn by watching.

There are abundant opportunities for students to practise their skills with the technologies before stepping into the real laboratory setting.


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