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E-Skills Development Postgraduate Students tell of their AR and VR jouney

Author: Institutional Advancement

UWC’s Post-graduate Diploma in E-Skills Development is inspiring students to confront the formidable challenges facing the world, with innovative technological skills and solutions.

(Published - 17 November 2020)

E-Skills development postgraduate students tell of their AR and VR journey

by Ayesha Boomgaard

My name is Ayesha Boomgaard and I am a BSc Medical Bioscience graduate a​t the University of the Western Cape (UWC). I was introduced to this course by my supervisors at the Department of Medical Bioscience. Their intention was to send us over to the Department of Information Systems and Computer Science to implement our theory into the development of an anatomy application. The purpose of this is to bring the disciplines together to incorporate Augmented Reality and Virtual Reality (AR/VR) based learning into the curriculum as a method of teaching.

It is found that the general teaching method used is a direct communication between students and teachers. However, the current student generation is very media-conscious, and their lives revolve around technologies. This has brought about the innovations of new technologies incorporated into improving the learning experience and increasing the level of understanding of the students. A major benefit of these technological developments and the acquisition of these skills has definitely come to light during a trying time such as the current world pandemic. It proves that alternate methods of teaching and learning are required to always benefit students and not restrict them to learning in classrooms or going through tough textbooks on their own.

As soon as I found out about the Immersive-skills programme, and the desire to incorporate it into the medical science field, I was immediately filled with excitement at this new venture and I was honored to get the opportunity to be a part of it. I am currently in the process of bringing a project of practical and theoretical anatomy, incorporated with the AR and VR technologies, to life. Doing this course together with the application developments has been incredibly interesting, exciting and a massive stepping stone for both myself and the Medical Bioscience students into a new technological dimension which the world is currently undertaking.

I am working closely with supervisors from the medical bioscience department; Dr C. Kotze, Prof O. Ekpo and Mrs M. Smith, together with the new supervisors in the computer science department; Dr O. Isafiade, Mr H. Maluleke and (External Supervisor from EON Reality) Mr L. De Laroche, on the anatomy application development project which I know will be a great success under their leadership.

With my experience in this course, I have come to know that next to money, technology rules the world. If you do not acquire the knowledge or skills, it will be really hard to keep up with the world, which is something we have very little choice in doing, especially when it comes to jobs. Every person and company, even down to factories, are constantly looking for ways to improve their lives and businesses with regards to the use or replacement of technologies. Not only do you gain the knowledge to assist yourself and others to do these things; you also learn excellent communication skills as you work with teams, clients and supervisors, and acquire good leadership qualities and a responsible work ethic. Don’t fall behind. Keep up and get tech savvy - it will definitely take you places.

by Kaylyn Fritz

My name is Kaylyn Fritz and I am a BSc Medical Bioscience graduate at the University of the Western Cape (UWC). In 2020 I was introduced to the Post-Graduate Diploma in E-Skills programme with the focus on immersive technologies by supervisors from the Department of Medical Bioscience. The idea was to create an interdisciplinary environment that would mutually benefit both the medical bioscience and computer science departments.

Ultimately, the decision to enrol in the AR/VR programme was a huge step outside my comfort zone as my academic knowledge was centred on human anatomy and microbiology, and I was now required to learn programming and animations for application development. I saw this as a challenge and a unique opportunity to learn and acquire a completely new set of skills that could possibly assist in medical research as well as make available many other opportunities in various other disciplines/fields.

In the first semester of the AR/VR programme, the general focus is the theoretical background of programming and animating. All knowledge is tested through the form of class activities and practical developments, whereas in the second semester you are required to apply all the information and knowledge gained in the first semester and build an application from scratch. However, since the Covid-19 pandemic started there has been a change to this layout. A concern I had was whether or not the 2020 academic year would be finished on time. We didn’t necessarily skip a beat as two days after campus shutdown we proceeded with online learning. This was still a challenge as many students, including myself, didn’t necessarily have the adequate equipment to work from home. Luckily, with our headstrong supervisors fighting for our success, we were granted access to campus by mid-June. This enabled us to complete all our tasks by the end of our catchup period, mid-August. After the completion of these tasks, the first semester was considered finished, and we immediately started with the second semester. The vision was to develop an AR/VR application that would incorporate the theory and practical anatomy acquired during MBS undergrad. So for the 2020 anatomy application development project, my team is working closely with supervisors from the Department of Medical Bioscience (Dr C. Kotze, Prof O. Ekpo, Mrs M. Smith), the Department of Computer Science (Dr O. Isafiade, Mr H. Maluleke) as well as an external supervisor from EON Reality (Mr L. De Laroche).

Through the many challenges we faced this year, there are a number of skills that I have acquired. This entire year has taught me patience, how to work well under pressure, and that hard work pays off. Because even though I had no background in programming and animations, I can now say that I am more competent in these topics. I have gained good leadership qualities, academic communication skills, and time management skills. With the mixed background I now have, I am excited to see what now lies ahead of me.

By Ntokozo Yokwe

My experience with this course was superb, to say the least. It was very exciting and interesting to see how much innovation is currently taking place in the technology industry, and even more exciting to realize that this course was going to give me the opportunity to be completely immersed in the futuristic field of development with high-end information, educators and resources. I was very impressed with the level of education we received through a more practical rather than theoretical approach of education, as I myself have always enjoyed doing more practical work rather than theory.

There are so many possibilities of innovation with the technology we were introduced to this year. And it all opened my eyes to a brighter future as I’ve continued to sink deeper into mobile development, not only for the luxury of a better job opportunity but to bring these opportunities to the “previously disadvantaged” communities - to bring together hope and more practical skills that are very ripe with opportunity in this ever developing country and world. I’m very thankful for this opportunity to change my industry of choice and will always be appreciative of the Dean of the Faculty of Science, Professor Mike Davis-Coleman, for recommending this course to me, as this has surely changed my life and potentially the lives of others. z

By Kayleigh Filton

Immersive Technologies - namely Virtual Reality (VR), Augmented Reality (AR), Mixed Reality (MR) and Extended Reality (XR) - are examples of cutting-edge technologies leading into the fourth industrial revolution, and they are changing the way consumers interact with digital content. The postgraduate diploma in E-Skills with Immersive Technologies programme equips graduates with knowledge of immersive technologies and necessary skills to develop interactive AR and VR applications.

In 2020, I graduated with a Bachelor of Science in Medical Bioscience. I was offered enrollment in this one-year programme. Part of the reason for my acceptance was due to the fact that my application for BSc Hons in Medical Bioscience was rejected. However, at the beginning of the 2020 academic year, I found the content very interesting and exciting. I found myself becoming part of a massive project that can strengthen our economy and bring about innovation where needed.

I believe that my experience compared to that of the class of 2019 was very different, due to the COVID-19 pandemic that caused a global lockdown. Access to resources that were previously available to myself and my fellow colleagues had become restricted for the majority of the first semester, which was intended for skills building. This made a large negative impact on the method of teaching and studying. Most of the class could not complete their assignments on time. The class of 2020 had to resort to online learning, and this made skills building very difficult. Most of the class - including myself - had limited internet access, and therefore could not attend online lectures. The University eventually gave us access to the designated computer laboratory to complete our assignments. However, all assignments had to be completed in a very short period of time, placing immense pressure on us all. Nevertheless, we pushed through and made it to the second semester.

Throughout the academic year, I have learned the basic knowledge and skills to develop AR and VR applications, particularly for smartphones. I have also acquired knowledge regarding project management. My tutor, lecturers, and supervisors were willing to assist my fellow colleagues and I with any issues. During the second semester, we were able to create an AR application to assist anatomy students in studying the muscular, skeletal and nervous systems of the human body. It was amazing to see how we have used these skills to build a functioning application.

I have not heard of any other South African institution offering a course in immersive technologies. This sets the University of the Western Cape apart from other institutions, creating opportunities for young future innovators.

by Martha Tanaka Chasaya

My name is Martha Tanaka Chasaya. Before I went into the VR/AR programme, I had obtained a bachelor’s degree in business administration. As technology is advancing, I saw it fit that venturing into an IT-related field could increase my chances on the job market. After researching I discovered the e-skills (VR/AR) programme, and for me the fact that it didn't require a technical or mathematical background to be enrolled was an opportunity.

Honestly, the AR/VR programme was hard for me in the beginning. I remember asking the lecturer if it was okay to deregister, but he gave me the best advice ever: “Martha, this course is broad. If you don't make it in designing, maybe coding or even modeling might be your expert areas”. Coming from a business perspective, I never imagined it was possible to shift into such a well-sought after advanced programme and excel. The classes were built from the foundation level which made it easier to grasp the concepts. The tutors were very patient and always willing to help. 

I can testify that the programme is a ground-breaking move towards my career as I can now do 3D modelling, coding(c#), create applications and develop games. In addition, I have also obtained knowledge about how to operate advanced virtual technology tools. This programme has also prepared me for the business world as the last six months are designed to test your knowledge by having actual clients and working in teams. I was part of Team Echo and we created the immersive virtual tour for the Faculty of Community and Health Sciences. This whole experience also enhanced my teamwork skills.

Going further, I have applied for a Master’s degree programme within the VR/AR field. I have gained more interest and confidence in application development, hence I’m steering my career in that direction. I believe that virtual reality and augmented reality are the future and I would advise people to really invest in this course. It's worth it . 

Thank you.

R. Koopman

Before starting the AR/VR programme this year, I did not really find much interest in technology. There were so many aspects that I was not aware of and/or did not have knowledge about when it comes to an immersive environment. I was introduced to the programme by one of the doctors in my BSc undergraduate course as I was on the waiting list for the BSc (Honours) Medical Bioscience degree for 2020. I was a bit hesitant and unsure how the course would help my career goals, so I decided to do some research. Consequently, I discovered that this course would play a significant role in my ultimate goal, which is to work in the forensic science field.

This year has definitely not been an easy one, especially academically. However, it has taught me a lot, and I picked up so many skills in the process. Some of these skills include coding, modelling, creating an application, as well as creating and uploading lessons on the EON-XR platform. Before doing this course, I had no knowledge whatsoever about any of these things. Having to learn all the work in the time-frame that was given, considering the Covid-19 pandemic, my overall take on the programme is quite positive as it has really broadened my knowledge.

I’ve been very interested in forensics since a young age. After obtaining my degree I was determined to do whatever it takes to get myself into this field. Though I was initially doubtful, looking at how our world has significantly evolved with technology over the past years definitely played a part in me deciding to go ahead with the course. Also, expanding my knowledge beyond biological science is an interesting challenge. The fact that the course is only 12 months and enables students to immediately do a Master’s degree afterwards definitely had my attention too.

Doing the immersive e-skills programme has been quite a learning experience. It has made me

unlock a lot of potential in myself that I did not know I had, or at least didn’t realise I had at a certain point in time. Moreover, it has made me grow a lot and has humbled my way of looking at/approaching different perspectives.

Seeing how the world is shifting more and more towards technology, doing the AR/VR programme will definitely be an advantage. With research displaying an increase in revenue for VR, pursuing the immersive e-skills course will positively impact your life when looking at the financial aspect.

Having the desire to educate and help others, being in an immersive programme has really developed my skills and techniques. You can also get to experience and learn about an immersive environment for yourself, thus enabling you to create, build or work on your own applications.

Overall, taking on this new journey has been an amazing experience. It is a programme that I will strongly recommend to anyone interested in doing it.​​​​

Click here to apply.​

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