LØRN Case #C0612
VR / AR as the learning technologies of the future
In this episode of #LØRN Silvija talks to professor at NTNU and leader of INTEL (Innovative Immersive Technologies for Learning), Ekaterina Prasolova-Førland, who might be Norway’s first VR professor. Ekaterina has been working with educational virtual worlds and immersive technologies since 2002, with over 100 publications in the field. She has been involved in developing educational XR simulations for a wide range of stakeholders, from aquaculture industry and hospitals to the Norwegian Armed Forces and Labour and Welfare Administration. She is founder of Women in VR/AR Norway and is on the board of XR Norway.

Ekaterina Prasolova-Førland

professor

NTNU

"A picture says more than a thousand words, while VR says more than a million words."

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En LØRN CASE er en kort og praktisk, lett og morsom, innovasjonshistorie. Den er fortalt på 30 minutter, er samtalebasert, og virker like bra som podkast, video eller tekst. Lytt og lær der det passer deg best! Vi dekker 15 tematiske områder om teknologi, innovasjon og ledelse, og 10 perspektiver som gründer, forsker etc. På denne siden kan du lytte, se eller lese gratis, men vi anbefaler deg å registrere deg, slik at vi kan lage personaliserte læringsstier for nettopp deg. Vi vil gjerne hjelpe deg komme i gang og fortsette å drive med livslang læring.

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Who are you and how did you become interested in innovation/technology?

Some call me ‘Norway’s first VR professor’. When I was little, I read a lot of science fiction and fantasized about how to fly around the Galaxy, make friends with creatures from other planets, use technology to achieve super abilities, and save the world.

What is the most important thing you do at work?

We call it the 3 E, which are all equally important: Educate, Experiment, and Explore: our IMTEL VRlab is used in teaching different subjects such as geography and teacher education; we experiment and research the development and use of VR / AR solutions for learning and training; we invite the public to explore what VR/AR/XR technologies can be used for.

What do you focus on in innovation/technology?

At our IMTEL lab, we research innovative ‘immersive’ technologies and methods for learning and training: how VR / AR can support learning today and in the future when society and especially the labor market will be quite different from today.

Why is it exciting?

Because in VR / AR you can literally do anything you want, follow your imagination, and break boundaries and physical laws.

What do you think are the most interesting controversies?

With these technologies, if you use them in a certain way, you can literally ‘reprogram’ the brain and change attitudes towards people. Are you in danger of ending up in Matrix-like states? As with all technologies, balance and common sense are important

Your own relevant projects last year?

Perhaps our most exciting project in recent years is virtual internships or virtual job seekers in VR for NAV, where young jobseekers can gain insight into different professions in VR in a safe and engaging way.

Your other favorite examples of similar projects, internationally and nationally?

National: XR Norway. International: VR and Climate Change Awareness: Stanford Ocean Acidification Experience; VR and awareness of the refugee crisis: Project Syria by ‘VR godmother’ Nonny de la Pena.

What do we do uniquely well in Norway from this?

In Norway, there are several support schemes for innovation projects and infrastructure, both within academia and from innovation Norway to the business community. It is great that, for example, NAV in Norway dares to invest in innovative solutions and introduce VR at several of its workhouses and offices, this is quite unique.

A favorite future quote?

I usually tell my students that while a picture says more than a thousand words, VR says more than a million words.

Who are you and how did you become interested in innovation/technology?

Some call me ‘Norway’s first VR professor’. When I was little, I read a lot of science fiction and fantasized about how to fly around the Galaxy, make friends with creatures from other planets, use technology to achieve super abilities, and save the world.

What is the most important thing you do at work?

We call it the 3 E, which are all equally important: Educate, Experiment, and Explore: our IMTEL VRlab is used in teaching different subjects such as geography and teacher education; we experiment and research the development and use of VR / AR solutions for learning and training; we invite the public to explore what VR/AR/XR technologies can be used for.

What do you focus on in innovation/technology?

At our IMTEL lab, we research innovative ‘immersive’ technologies and methods for learning and training: how VR / AR can support learning today and in the future when society and especially the labor market will be quite different from today.

Why is it exciting?

Because in VR / AR you can literally do anything you want, follow your imagination, and break boundaries and physical laws.

What do you think are the most interesting controversies?

With these technologies, if you use them in a certain way, you can literally ‘reprogram’ the brain and change attitudes towards people. Are you in danger of ending up in Matrix-like states? As with all technologies, balance and common sense are important

Your own relevant projects last year?

Perhaps our most exciting project in recent years is virtual internships or virtual job seekers in VR for NAV, where young jobseekers can gain insight into different professions in VR in a safe and engaging way.

Your other favorite examples of similar projects, internationally and nationally?

National: XR Norway. International: VR and Climate Change Awareness: Stanford Ocean Acidification Experience; VR and awareness of the refugee crisis: Project Syria by ‘VR godmother’ Nonny de la Pena.

What do we do uniquely well in Norway from this?

In Norway, there are several support schemes for innovation projects and infrastructure, both within academia and from innovation Norway to the business community. It is great that, for example, NAV in Norway dares to invest in innovative solutions and introduce VR at several of its workhouses and offices, this is quite unique.

A favorite future quote?

I usually tell my students that while a picture says more than a thousand words, VR says more than a million words.

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Tema: Muliggjørende- og transformative teknologier
Organisasjon: NTNU
Perspektiv: Forskning
Dato: 200204
Sted: TRØNDELAG
Vert: Silvija Seres

Dette er hva du vil lære:


VR hardware EducationSafe testing
The balance between real life and fantasy
XR

Mer læring:

The state of XR and immersive learningWomen in Immersive Tech

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Velkommen til Lørn.Tech - en læringsdugnad om teknologi og samfunn, med Silvija Seres og venner.

 

Silvija Seres: Hello, and welcome to Lørn. My name is Silvija Seres, our topic today is virtual reality, and its associated sciences. And my guest is Ekaterina Prasolova-Førland, welcome.

 

Ekaterina Prasolova-Førland: Thank you.

 

Silvija: You are a professor at NTNU, you lead a team, or a group, on innovative immersive technologies for learning, did I get that right?

 

Ekaterina: Yes, it is a research group, and we are a lab where we develop innovative applications, solutions in VR and AR, for learning and training. We do research on how the technology support learning and training. We also educate, we use this in education at our university. But we also let people explore how the technologies could be used in their educational practices, daily practices, and so on. So this is the three E's, as we call it. Educate, experiment and research, and explore. 

 

Silvija: Very cool. So you know, what I think is really exciting about what you do, is that you don't just research on what's there, you also experiment and develop. But you kind of live these things as well, you are very passionate about VR and the new pedagogic and social science of it. So we will talk about that, how you got into VR and where you think it should go. Before we do that, I hope you can tell us a little bit about who you are and why you work with what you work with.

 

Ekaterina: Well, somebody calls me Norway's first VR professor and I have been passionate about these technologies for maybe about 16 years. In the beginning it was what we call desktop VR, so I started to do research on that as part of my PhD in 2002, but generally I got interest for that kind of technologies already when I was a child. I was always passionate about science fiction. I dreamt about traveling the galaxy, meeting the aliens, using technology to get superpowers, and save the world. And I feel, still, that VR and AR give me these superpowers. It makes me and everybody else who uses these technologies free as a bird. If you go to my facebook page you can see me using VR to fly as a bird, and with VR, you can defy gravity, you can defy all kinds of physical laws. You can go to other planets faster than the speed of light. You can walk on Mars without protective suits. You can dive into the deep of the ocean, you can go down into the volcano. There are limitless possibilities, and that is why it really.., these technologies are really powerful for learning and training, because you can basically create a classroom with endless possibilities. You can train in situations that are dangerous to explore otherwise, you can create powerful...

 

Silvija: I think it really.., it's charming to hear how passionate you are about this. Say a little bit about where you come from, and how did you end up in Norway?

 

Ekaterina: I was born in Minsk Belarus, and I came to Norway in 1992, because my father got a job in Norway. Now he is a professor at the Arctic University of Norway, so for me it wasn't an option to not become a professor, it was kind of my destiny. And maybe it was my father who kind of inspired me to love science fiction, to love tech, to love maths. He's a maths professor. So, I started to be curious and started to fantasize about how technologies can expand the horizons of human mind. I was dreaming to become an astronaut and travel the universe. I don't think I'm going there now, I'm too old for that, but in VR I can do it very easily.

 

Silvija: Ekaterina, I have a question. Where do we find all these VR experiences? You know, sometimes... I bought a couple of really good goggles. Well, not your level of good, but from a very cool Norwegian startup that makes these, Ludenso MovieMask. So, I know I can put in my mobile phone, I know I can see a few things on the New York Times, but in general it feels like I'm all dressed up with nowhere to go. Where do we find the content?

 

Ekaterina: Well, there are for example places like Steam, an online store where we can buy all kinds of games and experiences, not just VR. Viveport, I have a subscription for Viveport infinity where I can kind of stream all kinds of VR experiences. And you can find hardware for both cheap and expensive, and is something that everybody can afford.

 

Silvija: So, what would be, without you thinking it's a commercial, but help us get started. How do we get started? Do I need an Xbox, do I need a PC, you know, what sort of goggles should I get to get as enthusiastic about VR as you are?

 

Ekaterina: We can maybe start with the new Oculus Quest, a new standard VR set, not too expensive, about 5000-6000 NOK, and you don't need a computer to plug into, it's pretty good, and it's so called inside-out, so it's tracking your room and tracking what is outside, and you can play all the experiences and games with that.

 

Silvija: Very cool, and then we go to these Steam places?

 

Ekaterina: Yes.

 

Silvija: To look for games?

 

Ekaterina: Games, education, experiences, everything you can learn about climate change, history, anatomy, holocaust... You can dive to the bottom of the sea, you can see movies, you can experience how it is to be bombed in Aleppo, how it is to be a Syrian refugee, you can experience being an astronaut, you can climb Everest.

 

Silvija: Without the breathing difficulties.

 

Ekaterina: Exactly. 

 

Silvija: Okay. So, educate, experiment and explore. The other thing that I also thought was super exciting, was that you think about the new educational potential of these technologies. It's not just another tool replacing paper in a less efficient way. It really opens new ways of experiencing things. I think I heard you speak about something like this being used for treatment of compulsive disorders or PTSD or for helping people with treating burn bandages when they are put in an ice bath of some sort... How do we go about exploiting this for education in a better way?

 

Ekaterina: Where should I start... So, it is true what you said, you can use VR for therapeutic purposes, even destruct people from pain, and you can use it for learners who maybe have some difficulties learning, and creating inclusive learning in environments, and I can give this example; the project we do for NAV when we create so called virtual job tastes. We allow young job seekers to get a taste of different professions in VR, in a safe and engaged manner, with some gaming elements, so they can try how it is to work in the fishing industry, or in a car workshop, as an electrician, in construction, all by going into VR and trying out typical tasks. Some of them might have dyslexia, some have social anxiety, but in this environment, they can really do it at their own path, in a safe way, they can get some positive feedback, and they can see that they actually can do something. Many of them don't believe in themselves, but many of them can actually try a typical task and see if this is something they can do. And we have examples of young people, unemployed, who tried some of these, and are actually applying for positions and getting permanent positions. So, this is how we can include different kinds of learners, but also, you can create powerful 3D visualizations, for example in mathematics we are creating different applications, both in VR and AR, with hole lands, we have a group of students from physics and special pedagogics working, where they sit in a group where they develop applications that they are testing now at schools, for geometry, for practicing mental rotations of geometrical shapes. We develop applications for raising awareness for climate change, where you can for example run through the cities, through the city of Trondheim, on a treadmill, and you can experience sea level rise... This way, you can get this experience that climate change is something here and now, not something far away. Because it is said that VR is the ultimate empathy machine. I have had students who came to our lab and tried experiences created by one of my role models, Nonny de la Pena, the Project Syria where they experience bombing in Aleppo. They took of their headsets and then they were crying. So, they really felt being there, like the refugees.

 

Silvija: You mention that you can use this for maths and historical and educational stuff for kids, you can teach immigrants Norwegian, and you can even teach surgeons to be more precise in some kind of neuroplastic surgery, or...

 

Ekaterina: Well, there is an app we also have been developing for teaching immigrants Norwegian, where they can be in a be in a virtual forest environment and sit there by the fire and practice Norwegian, and experience these typical situations with going to a trip to the forest and being included in typical Norwegian activities. And there you can also spawn some objects by speaking their names. And there are these other projects with surgeons of St. Olavs Hospital, where we develop this app in AR, helping them to train new surgeons to perform spinal procedures where you inject botox into nerve nodes to help migraine sufferers.

 

Silvija: It is quite important to be precise.

 

Ekaterina: Yes, so this is something we have been developing for years now.

 

Silvija: Very cool. So, you talked about VR as the empathy machine, but it also could be the ultimate escape machine. I'm thinking about matrix-like conditions, where we all disappear in our own VR. And.., I think the physical world binds us together, it is still important... So how do we balance the two?

 

Ekaterina: Well, I can give you an example. So, I call myself a couch potato. I hate exercising in the real world, but I know that I need exercising. And the only way I can do that, where I can force myself to exercise, is in VR. So, on Saturdays, when my husband and daughter go to the shopping center, I put on my VR glasses, and I play games such as Beat Saber, which is a very active and physical game. So, then I am kind of away in the matrix, away from the physical world, but at the same time, I do the necessary exercise. So sometimes, these escapes could help us to achieve our goals and be useful, but of course it is important to keep the balance, like everywhere else, it is important to keep the balance between real life and the fantasy world.

 

Silvija: But are we extra vulnerable in this fantasy world? I mean, people who are developing all these games... I'm thinking a little bit about the Westworld series, or the Black Mirror stuff... Is there going to be a need for regulation in how you behave in virtual worlds or not?

 

Ekaterina: Well, of course there are... I mean, I could talk about this for hours. One of the things, is that if you use VR in certain ways, it could be very powerful, because you can basically change people's attitude. For example, you can make people less biased towards people of other races, which is good. It is good to change attitude this way. But it is also possible to change attitudes in different directions, and it is there that we have to be a bit careful.

 

Silvija: It can be very manipulative if it is in the wrong hands.

 

Ekaterina: Yes, it can be very manipulative, and there are all these aspects of when you meet others in these virtual worlds; there are a lot of social virtual worlds. I mean, how do you behave towards each other, the issues of anonymity, issues of how you use your data, how one can hack your data. You can, in virtual worlds, dress like avatars and hide behind avatars, and you can behave in a way that you wouldn't behave in reality. So, there are very many issues here we can discuss and address.

 

Silvija: Going from the legal legalese issues to the more commercial issues, there is... I don't know whether we should call it network of companies or conglomerations... Expi Norway? I don't know, maybe you can tell us. Are there people who are finding good new business models based on VR?

 

Ekaterina: It is XR Norway. It is a kind of AR, VR, so all these R's, so XR Norway is a network that also NTNU and SINTEF are a part of, mainly business, and I'm on board, so our goal is to educate about these technologies, it is to help Norwegian businesses to advance and grow, and help businesses and customers to find each other.

 

Silvija: One of the projects that I would like you to comment on, is the VR God Mother. What is that?

 

Ekaterina: It is Nonny de la Pena, which I mentioned earlier, it is a journalist that.., called VR God Mother, and in her company, they produce quite powerful projects. It started as Hunger in Los Angeles, and one of my favorites is Project Syria, and now Greenland Melting. So, they kind of allow yourself to be merged into different situations, either it is climate change or being among hungry people of among refugees, or in solitary confinement or Guantanamo Bay, so in that way experience how it is to be somebody else, and then feel empathic and being there, it's a new way of doing journalism. 

 

Silvija: Very cool. We could watch that with that basic set of glasses?

 

Ekaterina: Yes, it is on Steam, and many of those projects are freely available.

 

Silvija: What do you think people should learn more to be ready for the future that is coming?

 

Ekaterina: Well, technology changes extremely fast, but human and human brains not so much. If you look back at the many thousand years of evolution, we didn't change much. So in order to develop and adjust to technologies that are really helpful for the human, we need to learn how the human brain, human physiology and psychology function. I mean, all the reaction patterns, the vision, the gestures. So, I'm really eager to look more into that, and apply for some more project that actually look at VR and using bio and neuro feedback to create better tell all experiences for human that are using VR.

 

Silvija: So, when you talk about VR and psychology... But with bio and neuro feedback, can you just help us understand what that means?

 

Ekaterina: Well, it's a very simple example. It is an app that we have developed some years ago, where you have VR glasses, you have bracelets that record your pulse, and depending on your pulse, the beach and the waves you see in VR, they are increasing or decreasing. So you can control the waves with your pulse, and in this way you learn to control your own situations, how calm and relaxed you are.

 

Silvija: So, Ekaterina, what do you think are the main advantages from doing this kind of research from Norway?

 

Ekaterina: Well, there are a number of different funding options for academia and businesses, you have Innovation Norway, you have Norwegian Research Council, and also we got some funding from our own university and our department and faculty, that allowed us to actually start our VR lab, which is one of the most advanced labs in Norway, and maybe in Europe. I remember that maybe two-three years ago, I told myself I have a dream to get a fully functional modern VR lab, and now my dream got fulfilled, thanks to that. And we are about to get a lot of advanced equipment and do a lot of research and activities, and we could use this in educations in different subjects.

 

Silvija: Very good. Where can we read more about what you talked about? What should we read first?

 

Ekaterina: Well, there is a very good book by Eirik Urke on VR, a journalist from Teknisk Ukeblad. There are a lot of academic resources available, for example the part of a project I'm part of - XR state for immersive learning. There are also Facebook groups on VR for learning and different areas. We have this portal - women in immersive tech, that I'm also a part of as an ambassador for Norway. Now it's nonprofit. And there are a lot of resources there, some reports, links to companies funding opportunities, especially for women, because it is also important to be inclusive and involve more women into the field.

 

Silvija: Very good. Do you have a quote that we can tag to your picture?

 

Ekaterina: I have two quotes, one is kind of my own, and I always tell it to my students. You know the "a picture says more than a thousand words," I say "VR says more than a million words". Then I have a quote by Stephen Hawking who I really admire greatly; "remember to look up at the stars". It is what I'm trying to do all the time. When I was a child and still as an adult, I try to look at the stars, both in real life and in VR, and I try to expand my own horizons and find new ways of obtaining my goals, and new ways of using technology.

 

Silvija: Very good. Ekaterina, if you have to choose one thing that you want to make sure that people remember from our conversation, what is the most important thing?

 

Ekaterina: Don't be afraid to explore new technology. Maybe you don't know how to use it right at the beginning, but as you manage it yourself, it's not always that you need faster horses, you might need something completely different to revolutionize the way you educate, the way you exercise, the way you explore the world. So don't be afraid to try something new.

 

Silvija: Ekaterina Prasolova-Førland, thank you so much for coming here to be with us in Lørn and inspire us to make the most both with our physical and our virtual worlds.

 

Ekaterina: Thank you.

 

Silvija: Thank you for listening.

 

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