SGEI hosting next-gen showcase to highlight AR and VR in education

By Ken Kellar
Staff writer

Seven Generations Education Institute (SGEI) is offering the public a chance to head down to their Fort Frances campus and take in some of the newest technologies in the field of education that will benefit teachers and students alike.

Scheduled for Tuesday, March 19, 2024, at the Fort Frances Campus, as well as another event held on March 26 at their Kenora campus, SGEI will be hosting a Next-Gen Reality Showcase, focusing on augmented and virtual reality in the education setting. The event promises a slew of activities for visitors, all revolving around the technology the institute has at its disposal to use to enhance the education of its students, with a chance to experience just what is on offer at the campus, as well as to win some prizes for participating.

Christine Woolsey, the Director of IT at SGEI’s Fort Frances campus, said the first-of-its-kind event for the institute will feature tech like its virtual anatomy table and virtual driver’s training set-up, as well as some of the smaller or more consumer-oriented pieces like VR headsets and their 3d printer.

“This is our first-ever augmented and virtual reality conference that we are going to have,” Woolsey said.

“It’s basically going to be stations and activities of all the augmented and virtual reality that we have to offer at Seven Generations Education Institute. We’ll display all of our equipment we have in some way, shape or form. Within our Makerspace we also have several different pieces of equipment that people can use, there’s the HP sprout we have for 3D modelling, we also have several iPads that have our very own augmented and virtual reality app that was developed in-house by our Makerspace assistant Maggie LeMesurier. We also have a couple of computers with software on it that people come in and develop their own augmented and virtual reality games.”

As a primer for those not familiar with these technologies, augmented reality, or AR, is technology that lays digital elements over the real world, most commonly seen through smartphone apps that allow you to enhance what you see in the real world with images, icons or information. Virtual reality, or VR, on the other hand, completely replaces the real-life environment around you for an entirely simulated one. Put very basically, AR might allow you to scan the moon and see facts laid out next to it for you to read, whereas VR can let you look around on the (digital) moon itself.

Attendees to the showcase will be given a passport of sorts to bring with them as they tour the facility and stop at each of stations. Completing the passport will allow participants to then enter their names for a number of prizes, including a Meta Quest 2 All-in-One VR headset, Apple Airpods, and more.

Woolsey said that the technology at SGEI is intended for use with all of the programs on offer, even if it might not seem like a given program could really make use of virtual or augmented reality. Woolsey said that teachers at the institute can work with SGEI’s digital content creator Connor Botsford so that they, through collaboration, can come up with novel ways to put the technology to use.

By way of example, Botsford explained that he recently worked with a construction program at SGEI to come up with a way to implement virtual reality into their classes by way of making a digital shed.

“In my hiring I have the ability to 3D model and create custom assets and stuff more specific for their programs,” Botsford explained.

“I worked with the Building Construction Technician program and we created a shed that was a one-to-one replica of a shed that they were going to build in the following semester. Students were able to go in, and the way Eon Reality works is that you can view it on your laptop, you can view it on your phone or you can view it in the VR headset. It’s offered however the instructor chooses to employ it.”

For that particular case, Botsford said the entire virtual model was built in the same way that the actual shed would be built using all the correct materials and measurements, which means that students in the program could go into the virtual model and pull it apart piece by piece, board by board, screw by screw, in order to see exactly how the build functions and fits together. All of that learning could be done before they had ever started putting the physical shed together on their own. These kinds of applications of the VR and AR technologies, Woolsey said, show just how much the education offered at SGEI can be enhanced and gamified, something she said is becoming more common throughout education.

“We’re finding a lot more in education that gamification really adds an extra piece, and it adds that extra piece of engagement,” she said.

“It draws students in and they become very interested in it. It helps take something that, you know, there’s always a piece of programming that isn’t an engaging piece. This helps make those pieces engaging.”

It also help to draw students to SGEI in the first place, Woolsey said, noting that not all of the post-secondary institutes can claim access to some of these more advanced pieces of technology like the Anatomage virtual anatomy table. Therefore, when students are considering where to go to further their education, the incorporation of advanced AR and VR tech into everyday programming can help to sway the decision in SGEI’s, and the student’s, favour.

On the smaller, but no less interesting side of things, Woolsey said the showcase is going to be another way that SGEI can show off what is available to the public for everyday use. Rather than getting on a virtual driving simulator, the public can access advanced tech through the Makerspace, where they can use equipment like the 3D printer, Cricut machines or CNC cutter. The Makerspace has been running at the Fort Frances campus for some time now, but the institute is still trying to really show off what can be done there.

“This is our big promotion for what we have to offer,” Woolsey said.

“There’s not many people right now that are coming in for those pieces, and we are trying to promote them more and let everybody know what we really do.”

Both Botsford and Woolsey said the event is a great opportunity for the public to learn more about these topics and what SGEI has on offer.

“It’s the opportunity to try out some new tech that they might not otherwise have the opportunity to do,” Botsford said.

“There’s not always an understanding about this new technology and how it’s used in education. So I think it can be beneficial to see how it’s being used and how we’re trying to implement it and just being able to even bring that back to their field and seeing like, ‘Okay, this is how it could be used in my line of work.’”

“It’s also a chance to experience how augmented and virtual reality are becoming a big part of education,” Woolsey added.

“We always want to provide people with an opportunity.”

SGEI’s Next-Gen Reality Showcase will run from 1:00 p.m. to 5:00 p.m. next Tuesday, and in addition to the previously mentioned tech, will also feature author and educator Curtis Carmichael, who will be on hand to help others learn more about the importance of augmented and virtual realities in education.