The VR Hive is a start-up with the HQ in Lochaber and an office in Paisley, aiming to transform the e-Learning experience by using virtual reality tools and techniques.
With an initial focus on soft skills, The VR HIVE is developing accessible, affordable, and innovative online training. Their packages aim to fully engage learners, improve courses completion rates, and increase knowledge retention, allowing the user to build towards internationally-recognised qualifications
We sat down with The VR Hive Founding Director, Anne Widdop, and TORCH Senior Solutions Architect, Iain Henderson, to discuss The VR Hive’s work with The Data Lab.
Anne, what was your motivation behind the virtual reality learning platform idea?
A: Covid! My background is in technology and everyone I knew had kids/students/themselves at home trying to learn, and they were trying to do this over really boring webinars, or click-through e-Learning courses. It was tedious; it’s disengaging, it’s exhausting.
Everybody that I knew was complaining and I thought, “Is this it? Is this really the only way that we’ve got to learn interactively?” Why are we not using virtual reality? Why are we not using gaming technology? Where’s the interaction?
I’ve worked in education for a number of years; I was a lecturer at a University, and before that, I had set up a women’s technology centre where I taught. So, I took my background in education and put that together with my technology hat to bring learning into the 21st century.
What was the aim of your TORCH engagement and how did you and Iain work together to get the most out of it?
I: Anne approached TORCH with a view to validating the business proposition and providing support with programme management. Strands of work already existed around funding, resourcing, client management, product development, software development (immersive tech and mobile applications), partner management, marketing, and sales. These needed to be pulled together, visualised, prioritised and then delivered to target.
A: As a start-up company, you’re completely overloaded. The VR HIVE team is heavily made up of really keen, dedicated, innovative graduates who are full of ideas, and I’m investing a lot of my time and effort into developing those people. So, bringing Iain on board helped me prioritise, structure thought processes, make introductions to people who could help us and ask me (and our team) all the difficult questions we hadn’t already thought of.
What were the main takeaways from the work with TORCH?
A: We had a real focus on the product development side of things, separating what we were doing with the mobile app from the platform development. Iain was also great at helping us understand risks and how to avoid them.
I: I worked with Anne to shape a programme plan that she felt comfortable with for the 2022 calendar year. That planning work culminated in an early January workshop with the whole team to discuss, tweak, and (ultimately) sign off on the plan.
Are there any successes or features that you’re especially proud of?
A: There are two things in particular that I’m really proud of:
We’ve just launched our content on mobile app and one of those training packages is based around difficult conversations, end-of-life conversations. They were designed with NHS clinicians to enable them to practice an end-of-life conversation. It’s not something you immediately think to do with VR, but it’s something that has worked extremely well. I’m really proud of what we did there.
We also produced some work around UWS Nursing Midwifery degrees: a way to train degree-level nurses in wound dressing. There’s an assessment included in the training; we’re using AI to evaluate what they’re doing – watching for any mistakes, forgetting equipment, etc.
For both packages, you put the headset on, and you’re completely immersed in the environment.
What’s next for VR HIVE?
A: On top of launching our mobile app, we’ve just secured a £150K Scottish Enterprise SMART grant and we’re now building our educational Metaverse Platform (to be launched in August 2022). As part of that, we’ve developed an animated classroom assistant called Verbee, an evolution of a chatbot, an automated character that works within this virtual environment.
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