UJ Virtual Reality Center to advance STEM education

The Department of Science and Technology Education of the Faculty of Education of the University of Johannesburg (UJ) has introduced a virtual and augmented reality (RA) research center to accelerate innovation in the field of education.

The new VARSTEME center seeks to play a key role in the education of the next generation of researchers and professionals, creating one of the leading African academic centers dedicated to virtual reality (VR) and AR in the learning of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM), according to UJ.

Located on the Auckland Park Kingsway campus in Johannesburg, the center will support research and education initiatives with the potential to deliver game-changing advances in the STEM field, says UJ.

It will bring together an interdisciplinary team of UJ professors, postgraduate and postgraduate students studying VR and AR.

“We have high expectations for the center and believe that this can be an important feature of the faculty and university for research and faculty training,” says UJ professor Umesh Ramnarain, HOD of science and technology education.

“In December 2020, UJ was invited to make a presentation on the activities of the VARSTEME center at the fifth Europe-Asia Symposium on simulation and serious games for education. It was the first guest presentation from an African country.

The hub will be officially launched today during a virtual opening ceremony.

Recognition of technological learning forced due to the pandemic opens doors to unprecedented learning opportunities in human history and the development of VAR technologies is a marker for the future of basic and higher education in the country, points out UJ.

In SA and other emerging markets, RA and VR applications remain niche tools for scientific research. The aim of the VARSTEME center is to provide teachers with prior and in-service service with knowledge and skills in the use of advanced learning technologies, he adds.

Associated with this goal is the research agenda to continue studies on the effectiveness and pedagogy of the two technologies.

“UJ’s VARSTEME center is well placed to take a key leadership role in exploiting the benefits of VR and AR, not only in South Africa, but on the African continent in general,” says Professor Yiyu Cai, professor at Nanyang University of Technology (NTU)) in Singapore, program director of the VR and Soft Computing Strategic Research Program and professor in charge of NTU Computer Aided Engineering Laboratories.

“Through VARSTEME, an international collaboration for next-generation educational research can be developed.”

The UJ VARSTEME center is based on the Virtual Campus Tour, which uses VR with AR to help people navigate online campus maps. UJ also features the virtual graduation ceremony and online graduate systems, which include digital certificates, electronic academic transcripts and the graduation selfie photography feature.

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