Inspiring Women – Presenting historical female role models with Augmented Reality

Posted by Learnovate

A new project is using Augmented Reality (AR) technology to present the stories of inspiring women in history who worked with STEM.

Inspiring Women, a Learnovate-funded research project, aims to encourage girls in secondary school to choose STEM subjects at third level and for their careers.

The project uses actors to play the women in volograms – effectively full-bodied three-dimensional holograms – which can be viewed on handheld devices in the classroom.

It is thought that this will change the way students interact with the world around them, stimulate their curiosity and motivate them to learn.

The volograms will compliment sections of the Discovering Women in Irish History programme produced for the Department of Education and Science for transition year and senior cycle students in post-primary schools.

Inspiring Women is a design-based research project being undertaken by Linda Cardiff as part of a Doctorate in Education at Trinity.

It is co-funded by Learnovate and the EU’s INVICTUS project. The INVICTUS (Innovative Volumetric Capture and Editing Tools for Ubiquitous Storytelling) Project aims to deliver innovative authoring tools for the creation of a new generation of high-fidelity avatars and the integration of these avatars in interactive and non-interactive narratives.

The aim of Inspiring Women is to expose gaps in the teaching of Irish history and explore if presenting historical female role models in a new innovative way is a method of challenging gender stereotyping in STEM.

“STEM courses on offer in Higher Education Institutions are not attracting enough women. The issue of gender diversity is also evident in industry as the demand for computer science and technology graduates increases,” says Linda Cardiff, who works as the Project Lead for the ACW Women Empowerment Program with the Camden Education Trust.

“The lack of gender diversity in STEM is recognised as a serious international problem and has been highlighted as a global situation by Unesco. It is also thought that this lack of gender diversity in the industry imposes limitations on the design of products.

“At the root of the problem, there is an issue relating to gender diversity in STEM coming from the lack of visibility of historical female role models who studied or had careers in these areas. My goal is to bring the story of pioneering women from history to life to inspire and increase student engagement in STEM education.”

Inspiring Women uses volograms (augmented reality volumetric video simulations) to teach women’s history to see if students can acquire better historic inquiry and understanding of complex social problems relating to gender using this technology over traditional teaching methods.

The project will connect virtual and physical worlds to present the realities of women’s history in STEM by employing a collaborative approach and expertise from the creative industry, educators and technologists.

Using professional scriptwriters and actors, the project has already captured the stories of two Irishwomen who were important historical figures in the area of STEM – Dorothy Stopford Price (1890–1954), an Irish physician who was key to the elimination of childhood tuberculosis in Ireland as a member of the team that introduced the BCG vaccine, and Ellen Hutchins (1785–1815), an early Irish botanist who specialised in seaweeds, lichens, mosses and liverworts and identified hundreds of species.

In the AR simulations, the role models outline to students the way they lived, the work they undertook, the contribution they made to society and how they overcame gender stereotyping to pursue an education and/or career.

The study will use the simulations to conduct a pre-view and post-view experiment with transition year students from a selection of schools in Ireland before the students make decisions about their subject choices for the Leaving Certificate examination.

In the volograms, Dorothy Stopford Price is captured at age 26 and Ellen Hutchins is captured at age 25. “As role models I wanted to keep them near enough in age, so they are relatable to the students. A unique selling point of the technology is that it allows a 26-year-old to talk and reflect on her whole life so she’s engaging and interesting to contemporary students,” Linda says.

The actor is filmed in such a way that the finished simulation can be seen from any viewpoint. This will enable students to walk around the vologram and see it from different perspectives.

The technology partner to the project is Volograms, a spin-out of Trinity that simplifies the process of content creation for augmented and virtual reality. “Volograms developed the technology, which is volumetric video. It’s a technique that captures a three-dimensional space. It can be a person or a location. It’s like a hologram only it’s volumetric, so it is full bodied,” Linda says.

“The plan for next year is to collaborate with teachers as educators and students as learners. I will use their experience to identify and develop the key features of this learning tool so the students will have a meaningful engagement with the AR figure. Then, in the academic year 2022/23, it will go into schools.”

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