Taylor’s University takes step towards its future Metavarsity with launch of VORTEX XR lab

  • 500k jobs in Malaysia will require talent with immersive tech skills
  • A two-step plan to get ready for a Taylor’s Metavarsity in the future

Taylor’s University takes step towards its future Metavarsity with launch of VORTEX XR lab

He could have chosen any word to describe the early philosophy of the just launched VORTEX XR lab at Taylor’s University and Professor Dr Pradeep Nair, chose “play”.

Considering the US$224,000 (RM1 million) investment made into the lab, equipped with the latest augmented, virtual, and extended reality software and hardware, all designed to drive a university-wide adoption of XR and immersive technologies in teaching, learning, and research, that may seem like an uninspiring description by Taylor’s University Deputy Vice-Chancellor and Chief Academic Officer.

But as Pradeep explains it, he likes the word “play” because of the freedom it affords. What can you do around immersive technology in law, or even medicine, where there already are some striking examples of adopting immersive technologies into delivering medical care? But what else can be done when human imagination, creativity and ingenuity is set free to explore and push at traditional boundaries?

Infact, Taylor’s wants anyone and everyone at the university to not be intimidated but to come and play, experiment, challenge, have fun and ideate using the boundryless world of virtual reality/extended reality (VR/AR) as their creative canvas. This includes the 600 lecturers it has, ranging in age from the late 20s to 70s. The idea is to get them all exposed, to get familiar and then comfortable with the VORTEX XR Lab and its capabilities for them to tap.

Infact, all 16 schools in the university have to come up with ideas on how to incorporate immersive technologies ie XR/VR/MR into their subjects and then come to the VORTEX to get trained by Dr Charles Sharma Naidu and his team. Charles is Director, VORTEX XR Lab.

(L2R): Dr Charles Sharma Naidu, Taylor’s Director, VORTEX XR Lab, Prof Pradeep Nair, Deputy Vice-Chancellor and Chief Academic Officer, Dr Pouline Koh Chai Lin, Head of School, The Design School, and Faisal Athar, XR Specialists, VORTEX XR Lab.

Bachelor of Interactive Spatial Design to churn out hundreds of top talent

This will set the stage for the March 2023 introduction of its Bachelor of Interactive Spatial Design, the first major that will use immersive technologies in its curriculum.

“We believe that this is the program that will produce hundreds of qualified talent like Faisal Athar, (XR Specialist at the VORTEX XR Lab),” said Pradeep. An early graduate in Virtual Reality, back in 2007, Faisal has built a career rich in VR/AR roles, and, with his passion for education, recently turned down overtures from a leading global consulting and technology company that aims to stake a leadership position in the emerging Metaverse Economy.

“People like Faisal are really hard to come by in this country and we want to produce talent like him that can then work for a multitude of industries, helping those industries to adopt immersive technology into their businesses.”

And this brings us to the key question any parent will ask of any newly introduced degree program. “What kind of jobs and careers can our children build for themselves?”

It’s a question Faisal has been answering for over a decade. And where it used to be very limited prospects, mainly with architecture or interior design firms, today, he sees existing job roles expanding in scope to take advantage of immersive technologies. This is especially so in marketing and advertising where storytelling in new formats that appeal to Gen Z who are born digital is going to be ever more important to brands.

Students graduating with immersive reality skills will fit right in. Besides obvious roles in gaming companies and those specialising in building virtual worlds for clients, Pradeep and Faisal believe that companies in manufacturing, healthcare, construction, hospitality will all need such talent.

A student trying out kayaking ..in the Antartica.

Enter the Taylor’s Metavarsity – at some point in the future

Infact, Pradeep says 500,000 jobs in Malaysia, consisting of new roles and existing jobs will require people to be grounded with immersive technology skills.  

With Taylor’s launching its VORTEX XR Lab to be better than any facilty already existing in Malaysia and aiming for its upcoming major to set the bar for what an immersive technology program can deliver, is a Taylor’s Metavarsity not too far off?

After all, academics at Taylor’s have long been incorporating technology into their teachings. Infact since 2010 when Taylor’s introduced its e-Learning Blueprint, the level of technology adoption into lessons was a key appraisal criteria. And in 2012, within two minutes of a class ending, a video of that lesson was being posted on the university’s intranet for the benefit of students.

With that being the key criteria, “for the benefit of students” Pradeep explains that with campus life returning to normal after the disruption of the past two plus years, “there is a surge of interest in wanting to experience physical connections” among students.

Students want a hybrid experience, not a fully virtual experience as yet, which is why the Metavarsity is not a priority for now. Interestingly, Pradeep does think this will change and that the Metavarsity is coming. Describing the generation of students that are coming in from here on as taking to immersive learning like fish to water, offering a Metavarsity option is inevitable.

“And when that time comes, I want to be truly ready with a great experience so as not to damage our brand with an inferior virtual teaching and learning experience.”

He sets the bar very high for a Taylor’s Metavarsity. “We want the virtual teaching experience to be equal to or better than the classroom experience.” And to get there is a two step plan.

The university has set up Taylor’s Digital to build up its digital capabilities to deliver its programs fully online and get that capability built up to “the highest level possible” says Pradeep.   

VORTEX is the second step. It is about building content and capability in the metaverse. Once these two come together, Taylor’s believes it will have the foundation to create a digital twin or its Metavarsity.

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