DEMOCRATISING VIRTUAL REALITY WITH CRITICAL PEDAGOGY, DESIGN AND MAKING
Editor: Buck, Lyndon; Grierson, Hilary; Bohemia, Erik
Author: Novoa, Mauricio; Alsinglawi, Belal
Institution: School of Engineering, Design and Built Environment. Western Sydney University, Australia
Section: Responsible innovation in design and engineering education
DOI number: 10.35199/EPDE.2023.67
This paper narrates outcomes from an undergraduate first-year project-based learning studio in industrial design, which intends to democratize virtual reality and helps to rethink design education and professional practice for current and future challenges. The work fits in a more significant framework researching how technology can facilitate collaboration, co-habitation, and sustainability with co-present participants who are distributed globally. Particularly, virtual reality’s capacity to collapse the traditional staged design process into a singularity of simultaneous ideation, prototyping, testing, and production. New paradigms emerged at the start of the century: growth based on input-output mass manufacturing gave way to an agile software and knowledge-based economy. Twenty years on, education still needs to grasp how digitalization is progressively dematerializing the physical design artifact into algorithmic interactions for design innovation and production. The transformation is not perfect since technology has limitations. Diffusion problems (e.g., cost, supply) divide the haves and have-nots in society. Acquisition of the latest technology without adequate acculturation also results in individuals’ incapacity to upgrade their education and professional practice and hinders their social mobility. The first author took on coordination of the subject at the start of the Covid-19 epidemic in 2021. This presented unique challenges. Australia’s strict lockdown regulations forced us to teach students remotely online without the support of our university workshop and tools for two years. Students also felt insecure about their interests, capacity, and skills because they had just started university. The premise for the subject was that the 80-year-old undelivered promise on the benefits of virtual reality would only be possible if we made it accessible to all with their mobile phones, and we capitalized on their high-school leavers’ sense of adventure. The topic was to create a controller to draw, interact and navigate in three degrees of freedom (3DoF) virtual environment and an app based on five pillars. Free and open-source software (FOSS) that students could download from their homes. Heuristics promoted an evolutionary process of experimentation and testing of ideas and designs with no fear of failure. A gaming approach promoted the learning of coding and trialing through play. Critical making instilled in students that modern industrial design is the result of hands-on exploration with digital and physical components. And critical pedagogy challenged the master apprentice and atelier status quo with students’ exploration, knowledge generation, and ownership that builds self-reliance and self-actualization. Students built confidence and design research skills with three assignments. From benchmarking, auditing, and user research to experimental ideation and testing, and finally the production of a working prototype as a minimum value proposition, which they tested and measured for successful results and shortcomings. Three years on and back to campus, outcomes might enlighten readers, since these demonstrate reliability that survived the challenge of Covid-19 lockdowns, Students Feedback on Subject (SFS) surveys show that the subject is popular among students, who end the semester analyzing their user experience and testing their controllers by playing games individually and against each other.