Abstract: In this case, a mixed-reality environment based on a hybrid of desktop videoconferencing and 3D virtual world technology is used to bring together campus-based students in multiple countries studying an engineering design course with experts from industry. The relevant course requires student teams to work face-to-face and online on designing and prototyping marketable products of their choosing. To support students’ conceptual development of their projects, they are asked to ‘pitch’ initial proposals to their local and international peers and to the industry experts in the context of a trade fair held within the mixed-reality environment. This gives them opportunities to practise articulating and to solicit constructive feedback on their ideas in preparation for face-to-face presentations they must deliver to a panel of academics to obtain project approval. The activity also strives to hone students’ professional communication and networking skills, and to increase their awareness of cross-cultural design considerations.
The initiative has been well received by participants as well as by teaching staff and the wider academic community. The approach has proven time- and cost-effective at overcoming barriers in allowing a mixture of distributed and co-located individuals, including busy industry professionals, to simultaneously partake in authentic learning experiences. Student self-report data indicate they emerge with clearer conceptualisations of their ideas and greater confidence in explaining them to others, and the face-to-face presentations have been evaluated by the academic panel at a higher standard than those in prior years. Key lessons learnt include the importance of appropriate training and support for both participants and facilitators, attention to detail in the environment design, and explicit scaffolding of participants’ collaborative processes. Future work will see the creation of additional learning designs for accommodating a variety of work-related/work-integrated learning scenarios, giving rise to reusable resources along with ‘good-practice’ recommendations for educators venturing into this area.