IAT445 Immersive Environment Teaching Portfolio

My Roles

Lab instructor and teaching assistant.
Responsible for leading individual/group discussion sections, technical tutorials, living coding and debugging of 25-50 students, grading assignments, preparing and giving 2-hour lab tutorials once per week throughout the semester.

Course Introduction

This class introduces students to advanced 3D computer animation and virtual world building techniques. It integrates hands-on fundamentals with design praxis and theoretical and research concerns. Fundamentals are complemented with examples from current research and industry. The studio/lab aspect of the course will include assignments that focus on specific technical aspects, animation and behaviour modeling techniques, ways to quickly test your ideas and assess the scope of team-based design project.

Although this is a project-based course, students will be required to combine hands-on work with critical analyses of:

  • the historical roots of VR,
  • technological issues,
  • how researchers use VR in domains ranging from medicine and training to entertainment and
  • cultural explorations of VR’s past, present and future.

Critical analysis assumes reading, writing and talking about specific ideas about VR, or specific VR titles the students experienced. Note that in the early days of VR (c.1990s), we thought that VR’s killer apps would be in medicine and entertainment. It’s true that VR is indeed soaring in these two domains. However, in this class, it is important to recognize that video games do NOT equal immersive VR per se. Thus, we will examine at the ways that VR can benefit from video games techniques and conventions, AND we will also explore some of the features that distinguish VR form video games. Then we will explore how you can capitalize on these differences to create even more compelling VR work, or to imagine ways to use VR beyond contemporary norms.

First, the students will learn the definitions of phenomena that are essential to VR: presence, immersion and and embodiment. Students will also be introduced to ideas that can be especially relevant to designing VR, from natural user interfaces (NUIs) and direct manipulation to exteroception, interoception and biosensors. Next, we will define a VR framework — that is, assumptions and ways to think about experiencing VR — to help guide the ways you conceptualize, design, build and evaluate immersive virtual environments. One of the most important considerations of designing VR to focus on is how users experience VR, including the way they interact with and in the virtual environment. To differentiate you from any other undergrad who is technically-trained to create VR, we will combine hands-on fundamentals with theoretical, research and design issues. Exploring these issues should help guide:

  • the way students think about VR,
  • how students create VR,
  • how students come to grips with the fact that you the designer are not the people who experience your VR work, and
  • how students assess the VR work that others create.

Course Syllabus

Unit 1. The basics of Virtual Reality: hardware and history
Week One
(1) What is immersive VR? Definitions and limits of who calls what “VR.”.
(2) The history of VR technology: from early precursors (Sutherland) to the 90’s (HMDs, CAVEs, other displays), today (mobile VR, wireless VR), and future directions.
(3) Immersive vs. Non-immersive experiences: how to tell? (Esp. in research papers that cross various domains.)
(4) Grading and assignment structure.
(5) Students: bring windows machine, select a team leader who will check out the Oculus Rift HMD from the library for labs.
(6) Students quickly learn about each others’ skill sets, form teams (all team members need to be in the same lab section)    and report to TA in the lab session.

Week Two
(1) Important characteristics of VR:
(a) presence vs. immersion (& types of immersion)
(b) Field of View (FoV)
(c) Range of Motion (RoM)
(d) Degrees of Freedom (DoF)
(2) Project Theme Announced, show previous students’ work

Unit 2. Applications: from research & industry in diverse fields
Week Three
(1) Education: online learning, video conferencing, immersive experience for learning, training and simulations.
(2) Entertainment: games, sports, news, shopping, social networking (360 videos)

Week Four
(3) Healthcare: Pain management, training, surgery, treating anxiety or depression, rehab exercise, etc.
(4) VR Artwork: exploring sensations, perceptual anomalies, adapting to having a tail, being someone else
(5) Other fields: geography, industry (aircraft and spaceship assembly), archeology, history, architecture, sustainability, travel.

Guest Speakers

Unit 3. The psychology of VR: perceptual & other illusions
Week Five
(1) Place illusion (PI, does immersion cause ‘place illusion’?)(induce vs. elicit)
(2) Plausibility illusion (Psi, necessary conditions for Psi)
(3) Breaking Presence

Week Six
(3) Pinocchio Illusion, the Rubber Hand Illusion, Embodiment illusions. Concepts: sensorimotor contingency, proprioception.
(4) Presence, immersion, PI, Psi
(5) The psychological effects of embodiment illusions in VR

Unit 4.  Interaction Design in VR (refer to the Oculus VR UX guidelines)
Week Seven
(1) Don’t assume – think!!! Does your interaction work with your concept?
(2) Movement and controls
(3) Introduction to input devices: handheld controllers, gesture (Leap Motion), biofeedback sensors (MYO armband, etc.)
(4) Intention
(5) Direct manipulation vs. abstract game conventions vs. filmic conventions

Week Eight
(1) Text, or why no one wants to read in VR
(2) UIs: heavy-handed directions, obvious action cue, ‘come hither’ suggestions? How do users know what to do? Why to act?
(3) Interactions with objects, other entities or other worlds

Unit 5. Mid-term Guest Lectures & MVP prototype

Week Nine
Tuesday short lecture + students present 3-minute pitches, get feedback.
Guests from industry talk about their experiences and how those changed how they understand VR.

Guest Speakers
Unit 6.  How to design for better immersion? Presence? How do you know if your VR work is any good?
Week Ten
(1) review concepts from games & media: playtesting, core & secondary mechanisms; flow theory; narrative.
(2) What kind of VR is it? What’s VR especially good for? What are the limits of VR?

Week Eleven
(1) Review concepts specific to VR: immersion, presence; frame rate; how to avoid motion/sim-sickness, how to quickly assess.
(2) accounting for, extending, and understanding physical sensations

Unit 7.  Challenges in VR and the final project
Week Twelve
(1) Realism, abstraction, style & genre: graphics & animation
(2) Navigation, or “you want me to do what?!?!”
(3) Nausea, after images
(4) Meeting others
(5) Haptic, force feedback & non-normative forms of feedback

Week Thirteen
(1) Prepare for final presentation, logistics. Review online demos for what works and doesn’t work. You think you need hype?

Guest Speakers

Unit 8. Final presentation and ratings in the mezzanine

Week Fourteen
(1) Final Review, final presentation & prepare for grading.
(2) Project deliverables should include:

    • Unity .exe file (backed up) and original project files
    • A one-pager “executive summary”
    • Playtesting report from the final presentation (one copy per group)
    • Team attribution form filled out by individual
    • Final installation of demo: “framing” and matching the project, images of the final installations
    • Optional: a poster.


Learning Outcomes

While what the students learn in this class will cumulate in a final interactive project, it is also important that the students learn to pitch team project orally and via a video, and to articulate the ideas in demonstrations and “gameplay” testing throughout the semester. Finally, this class require students to participate in a public showcase and to document students’ project for perpetuity. For instance, combining a public project showcase with an executive summary and a final project video can further improve your resume/portfolio and marketability.

In a nutshell: students will learn how to design, build and iteratively refine a cool immersive and interactive virtual environment that should blow the user away. To do this, the student will use the popular Unity3D game engine, a VR framework and an HMD  each team can check out from SFU Surrey’s library.

Teaching Methods

Technical Tutorials: Each lab has a 45-60 minute Unity3D programming tutorial at the beginning, which is closely related to the lecture’s concepts. The students will follow the tutorials through live coding and ask questions.

Brainstorming & Team Discussions: Students are organized in teams to brainstorm their projects, perform in-lab activities, or carry discussions about weekly concepts.

In-class Presentations & Final Showcase: Students will showcase their final project to the public in SFU’s mezzanine and collect the public’s feedback about their VR games/environments in a formal playtesting.

Assignments & Projects: The assignments are all project-based, where the students need to code different simulation environments. The outcomes are open-ended, but the technical requirements are derived from the course concepts.

Quizzes & Exams: Three in-class 30 mins quizzes and the final exam test students’ knowledge of the lecture material, readings, and programming capabilities.

Student Sample Projects






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