With the return of students to universities and colleges continuing apace, even with the threat of Covid-19 affecting learning a distinct possibility, lecturers at Coventry University have revealed, in a timely move, that they will be teaching seminars using virtual reality (VR) powered by 5G this year, giving students access to interactive remote learning for the first time.
This new method of teaching will use the UK’s first commercial 5G standalone (5G SA) network, announced by Vodafone in July 2020, to offer students the ability to interact with their professors in real time, giving them an immersive experience with what the college assures will be no time delays or lag. Students will be able to access lessons on any connected device – such as a smartphone, tablet or laptop – and will have the facility to ask questions while the lecturer is presenting.
The technology will enable medical students to take a virtual tour through the human body and see how all the parts – from bones, muscles and the brain, to the heart and red blood cells – work and interconnect.
The 5G SA network – the next phase in 5G technology – has been installed in the Alison Gingell building on the university’s city centre campus. It will support the trial of state-of-the-art virtual reality learning technologies to train student nurses and allied health professionals in the university’s Faculty of Health and Life Sciences, and represents the first step in Coventry University’s plans for a 5G campus and continues its ambitions to provide students with innovative and flexible teaching and learning.
Vodafone, the first operator to showcase a standalone 5G network in the UK, said it would show the true benefits of 5G, including ultra-low latency, guaranteed speed performance and the internet of things (IoT), on a “never-before-seen” scale. The operator first switched on 5G in the UK one year ago today.
The VR lessons won’t fully replace teaching, but will act as an extension of the teaching methodology. The university said what differentiates this new way of learning is that teachers can access any part of the virtual body at any time – it is a real-time experience. Before, they would have used pre-recorded materials, which would only let them take a tour of the body in a linear sequence.
Natasha Taylor, Coventry University
“Coventry University is always looking at ways of pushing the boundaries of teaching and learning to improve the student experience,” said Natasha Taylor, an associate professor at Coventry University’s Faculty of Health and Life Sciences. “Put the headset on, and 5G allows the learner to access high-resolution images and videos remotely, anywhere in the world, and [they] are able to ask questions in real time. This is the first time that 5G standalone technology has been used commercially in the UK.”
Taylor said the setup would allow her to educate her students “at a level we’ve never been able to before”.
The infrastructure at Coventry University will be based on CloudXR, a software platform developed to enable streaming of high-fidelity VR to mobile devices.
“Previously, you would have needed a powerful computer directly attached to a VR headset to deliver high-fidelity VR. Vodafone is deploying CloudXR in a 5G network for the first time commercially,” said Vodafone UK’s head of networks, Andrea Dona. “In the future, 5G streaming of VR will fundamentally change the way we communicate, educate, work and play.”