Better learning design with co-creation

Before even thinking about product development, you need to identify clearly who are your users.

Can you really say you know what your end users need? What would be the coolest thing ever for them? What is important for them in their lives?

Some see themselves as experts in education because “everyone has gone to school”, and people easily reflect their own experiences. But if that was some 20 years ago, it is fair to say that things have changed in our society during that time. Even in the organization, that was founded in 1640 – the student generation is entirely different now than 20 years ago. Their everyday life and learning tools look very different. That’s why we keep meeting with our university students, who will ultimately be the end users of our solutions. 

You don´t even know what to ask, before you go and talk to people.

Furthermore, we have students working with us on a regular basis. Having students as an integral part of our team, as a learning designer, I find reassurance in their presence next to me every day. Together, we engage in brainstorming sessions to re-imagine online learning and jointly make design decisions. This collaborative approach has led to numerous design changes based on the valuable student feedback. In fact, we have received ideas from students that surpass our own original concepts. It’s important to recognize that what we might perceive as enjoyable could be super boring for students, and vice versa.

 

 

What we have learned from co-creation is that you should never assume anything.

When designing solutions for international students as well, it has been even more valuable to have international student trainees on board in the team. This way, we have been able to see immediately if our ideas would be also working for example for students coming from global south. For example just this week we were able to test how an AI solution works in Arabic, and in another situation, we have changed the text and expressions to be more inclusive to different cultures. We have been also able to take into account the different educational traditions in higher education in our design: not all are used to reflect and present their own critical ideas as much as we do at University of Helsinki. These observations have led us to fruitful discussions and further development.

Students have been sometimes laughing when I have been telling them that they are my highest authority in learning design. We are eager to find out if we have managed to create truly engaging learning experiences for them. Students are always brutally honest and that’s the fuel for our product development.

 

Image: Pilot testing with environmental committee of the Student Union HYY

Laval Virtual

My Journey Through Laval Virtual: The Quest for Immersion in the World of Virtual Reality

To give you some context you will find a brief summary about myself at the end of this post.

As an enthusiast of the concept of virtual realities, I was eager to attend Laval Virtual, the premier event showcasing the latest advancements in VR, augmented reality (AR), and mixed reality (MR) in short XR in as someone put it humbly the capital of VR! I couldn’t wait to dive into the world of cutting-edge technology, engaging discussions, and artistic creations. Throughout the event, I found myself constantly questioning: “What truly defines immersive experiences in XR?”
This is my personal journey to and through Laval Virtual as I explored innovative brands, participated in thought-provoking discussions, and found inspiration in the arts, all in the quest for immersion. But before I let you read the text itself I offer you the possibility to immersive yourself in a few 360° photos from various stages of my trip.

You can freely navigate with your mouse within the 360° image, there is even a hotspot you can click on and move on to the next image.

Note: While writing this on Friday 14 April, Laval Virtual is still on-going, but unfortunately I have to catch a train and then plane to make it home still today. Greetings from Paris Charles de Gaulle airport.

Discoveries

During my first day on Wednesday 12 April, I was thrilled to explore the innovative brands and technologies being showcased. As a newish VR enthusiast, I was particularly impressed by Movella‘s Xsense,  found the approach L.A.P.S. is taking interesting and thought Olfy had taken the next logic step in bringing one more of our senses to the XR table, very refreshing. Xsense’s groundbreaking work in motion capture, live avatar performance solutions, and sensory integration expanded, seeing it live, my understanding of what’s possible in VR and AR experiences.
L.A.P.S.’s solutions on the other hand enable real-time facial expression tracking, which allows avatars to mirror the movements and emotions of the performers in real-time. Finally Olfy is a virtual reality system that simulates smells to create a more immersive experience. In their own words: The sense of smell allows virtual reality experiences to be more engaging and immersive. Our goal is to enhance the emotions and effectiveness of virtual experiences by allowing you to experience them 100% (Olfy).

Thought-Provoking Conversations

As I attended the various discussions and keynotes, the Immersive Digital Learning topic stood out as a highlight for me, particularly the engaging panel discussion featuring Anaïs Pierre, Bogdan Constantinescu, Jayesh Pillai, and Thierry Koscielniak. Anaïs passionately emphasised that technology serves as a tool, and we must prioritise learning goals before seeking the appropriate technological solution. The use of tech tools must be purposeful and meaningful.
This is exactly how I feel about the use of technology in general. Content and (in my case usually) learning goals first, otherwise your course or product will not find its full potential.

I listened to Kent Bye’s fast-paced talk on the topic of XR moral dilemmas and ethical considerations. He discussed several crucial concerns that we should all be pondering, including the digital divide in access to XR technology, threats to privacy (e.g., biometric data), apparently there is no legislation on this and similar issues.

Furthermore a new concept I hadn’t heard before: mental privacy which is part of a proposed set of rights called the Neuro rights. Mental privacy refers to the protection of an individual’s thoughts, emotions, and mental processes from unauthorised storing and access, particularly in the context of novel technologies that can potentially monitor or manipulate these aspects of the human experience. This really jump-started my brain and I am still processing all the possible implications and reflecting on the ethical and practical considerations of using XR technologies in education and beyond.

During another panel discussion, I was introduced to the concept of eco-design, which involves reducing the energy footprint of eg. VR headsets. It became clear that as VR technology evolves, we must be aware of and address the energy-intensive nature of these devices to create a more sustainable and ethical future. By incorporating eco-design principles, we can minimise the environmental impact of VR and ensure a more responsible approach to technology.

Finding Inspiration in the Arts

Now of course Recto VRso cannot go unmentioned in this blog post. Recto VRso is a component of Laval Virtual, which this year took place partially at Le Quarante, a cultural center in Laval and L’Espace Mayenne. It showcases innovative uses of XR in the field of art and culture. Attendees can interact with some of the  installations that push the boundaries of what is possible in XR art, providing a platform for networking and inspiration in the field – further fueling my passion for the intersection of technology and creativity.

I’d like to single out one installation called Memory house by artist Jiahe Zhao.
According to the artists own words an my rough translation into English: Numerous items hold cherished memories, ranging from beloved family toys to treasured travel souvenirs. “Memory House” offers a solution for storing these memories in a virtual realm. By using 3D scanning technology, memory objects are brought into the virtual space, and through transformation by AI (artificial intelligence), they are manifested into a one-of-a-kind virtual edifice that is ideal for exploration.

And yet Recto VRso seems to be an exception. Over and over have I noticed that XR related applications are heavily situated in the engineering, training/onboarding and skills learning sectors, very little is to be found in the liberal arts world, sadly. Having an academic background in field of liberal arts myself I was excited to discover the creative applications of XR technology at Laval Virtual. I found inspiration in BavARt, an AR-specialised firm that combines art and technology in a Pokémon Go-style app.

Immersion?

As I left LavalVR, I couldn’t help but reflect on my initial question of what defines immersive experiences in VR. Throughout my journey, I discovered that immersion is not just about cutting-edge technology and realistic visuals. It also involves connecting with our emotions, bridging the gap between the digital and physical worlds, and finding inspiration in the creative fusion of art and technology. The quest for immersion is a never-ending journey, one that continuously ignites my enthusiasm for discovering the boundless opportunities that await in the world of virtual reality.

Final thoughts

This was my first conference I attend on my own, I knew no one at Laval and because I am not really an extrovert, but an observer if you will, I struggle connecting with  strangers. Most attendees were there in larger parties and would therefore communicate and entertain themselves among each other which makes it for outsiders as myself hard to mingle. I am not complaining just stating what I noticed.
Yet at the hotel I couldn’t help but be involved in socialising with the French during breakfast. As people were arriving to the breakfast they were greeting everybody and they were greeted by the ones already there. People would ask each where they’re from and what they’d do and so forth. There was active communication throughout  breakfast. I loved it

And finally, note that the venues for the Laval Virtual are kilometers away from each other and not just quelques pas (a few steps) as was repeated by officials a few times =)  Nonetheless I took this as an opportunity to walk and boy did I do some walking, a total of 27km on two and a hald days between my hotel and the three venues.

Thank you Laval Virtual et à la prochaine!

***

Background

I am fairly new to the XR world, in fact it was only last October (2022) that I had a VR headset on for the first time, imagine that! Having studied languages, folkloristics and other liberal arts subjects (at the University of Helsinki (UH)) I have noticed that I have a somewhat different approach to technology than most of my peers. I have been working in several positions at UH over the last, almost two decades including as an International exchange expert and Edtech specialist before joining the Global campus team. As a lifelong learner I started studying university pedagogy last year at UH believing it will give me a strong understanding of educational technology. Furthermore I am the chair of Una Europa’s Educational design and technology cluster. For more coherent  info on me see the Us section.

Case Sustainable Health – a teacher’s view on Global Campus collaboration

Surreal handshake

 

Sustainable Health is a multidisciplinary online course that discusses sustainable development themes in the context of healthcare and life sciences. It serves as the discipline-specific counterpart to the University of Helsinki Sustainability Course (SUST-001). It is currently being piloted in the University of Helsinki, Faculty of Pharmacy, and development is ongoing for its expansion into a massive open online course (MOOC).

The course employs a highly learner-centred approach, giving participants ample freedom in terms of how and when they choose to complete it. The students construct an e-portfolio, where the participants compile reflections on sustainability challenges and solutions. The portfolio may be based on pre-defined assignments or other freely chosen topics that align with the learners’ interests. Mid-course, students exchange peer feedback on their portfolio drafts, and at the end of the course peer assessment is carried out to verify that the portfolios meet the passing requirements of the course. The participants can choose whether they wish to complete the course within one teaching period or over two consecutive periods.

The collaboration with Global Campus begun during the development phase of the first pilot version of Sustainable Health. At the time, large parts of the course content had been prepared and the outlines of course completion mechanics drawn. What we felt was still missing was a unifying concept to tie together the individual topics and tasks of the course in a way that would keep the students motivated throughout the extended periods of self-paced studying. Additionally, we wished to gain expert insight into the execution of the peer feedback and peer assessment workshops. This is where Global Campus stepped in.

I was immediately amazed by the can-do attitude of the whole Global Campus team. In the beginning of the collaboration, I was asked to compile a wish list of features and enhancements for the course that the team could help me with, which felt like a strange position for someone whose work typically involves catering to the wishes of other teachers. Not having a clear sense of the full range of possibilities, I was initially hesitant with my hopes, but it soon became evident that the options would be only limited by my own imagination. For example, what started as an idea for using text-to-speech snippets to introduce the course content was transformed by Global Campus into a full sci-fi narrative, delivered in a post-apocalyptic virtual reality environment by an avatar from the future. Such a mind-blowing reference point has taught me not to hold back my scope based on what I expect to be within the realms of possibility.

Furthermore, I received valuable advice on how to organize the exchange of peer feedback among the course participants and got excellent insight on how to formulate the feedback instructions and questions in a way that would make the assessment process motivating and useful to the students.

Despite the creative and uninhibited atmosphere, working with Global Campus was very organised. With Sasa Tkalcan’s excellent coordination and comprehensive documentation on the shared project whiteboard, the goals were set very clearly, and progress towards them was regularly monitored. I really liked this approach and hope to apply it in other collaborations later on. This was also my first time working with some of the project management tools involved, like Kanban, so I also acquired new tracking methods for my projects.

During the development phase, Sustainable Health was one of two concomitant Global Campus pilots. Despite the completely different disciplines and course topics of the pilots, we had several meetings between both developers and the whole Global Campus team and ended up having an extremely fruitful collaboration based on the shared goal of creating quality e-learning. Some unique ideas that arose in our joint discussions ended up as crucial parts of Sustainable Health (and vice versa, I hope), highlighting the impact of the interdisciplinary brainstorming. I have no doubt that we will keep in touch and continue sharing ideas and good practices with the developers of the sibling pilot also after the finalisation of both projects.

The biggest challenge I faced during the collaboration was the allocation of my personal resources between developing the e-learning mechanics of the course and producing learning materials. The latter task was initially hoped to be shared within a larger group of subject matter experts, but the dynamic nature of the working group and the limited time resources of the experts proved challenging for co-creation. Eventually, I took on a large portion of the scientific content creation to ensure that the course would be ready for piloting on schedule, which limited my availability for the conceptualisation of experimental e-learning elements. On the bright side, the content is now in place with the pilot, allowing the future development of the course to focus purely on educational technology innovation and making the course as fun, engaging, and inspiring as possible. Conversations with the Global Campus team and other pilot developers revealed that the issue may in fact be more general, as it may often be challenging for subject matter experts to find the time to produce certain types of content, such as video lectures. However, it was also highlighted that AI-assisted technologies, such as text-to-speech and digital avatar tools, could significantly reduce this barrier and make it easier to co-develop learning materials in the future.

Overall, working with Global Campus has been a great experience that has really expanded my perspective on what is achievable when open-minded enthusiasm meets with the latest technology. In addition, the collaboration between the two parallel course pilots served as a great example of how multidisciplinary teamwork and idea exchange can greatly enhance course development projects when facilitated by a great team. I feel that by sharing knowledge and best practices between the projects, we established a framework that could be easily adopted to guide future course development initiatives.

Ilkka Miettinen
University instructor / Post-doctoral researcher
Faculty of Pharmacy / Helsinki Institute of Sustainability Science (HELSUS)
University of Helsinki

AI-Powered Course Material Production

Introduction: The Global Campus of the University of Helsinki is committed to exploring innovative methods for enhancing educational experiences. As part of this ongoing mission, our recent “AI methods in course material production” presentation at the university’s Learning Adventure showcased the potential of cutting-edge AI technologies in creating engaging and dynamic course materials. While our primary audience was the university community, we believe these insights hold value for all EdTech enthusiasts.

In this blog post, we’ll share key takeaways from our presentation, which encompassed five sections: Text, Images, Audio, Video, and Q&A.

  1. Text: Harnessing ChatGPT’s Potential. Kicking off our presentation, we introduced ChatGPT, an AI language model developed by OpenAI. By delving into the concept of prompting, we unveiled various techniques, including Chain of Thought (CoT) methods. Highlighting the effectiveness of role prompting, we showcased ChatGPT’s self-criticism and self-evaluation features as a means to generate meaningful responses.
  2. Images: Visualising Ideas with Midjourney. Transitioning to text-to-image (T2I) generation, we presented Midjourney as an exemplary case. Demonstrating seamless integration between Discord and Midjourney, we revealed the process of creating images through prompting in Discord. For a deeper understanding of the Midjourney case, we invite you to read our earlier blog post here.
    It’s worth noting that in addition to Midjourney, there are several other AI-based applications that allow for the creation of images through text. One notable example is DALL-E, which uses a transformer-based neural network to generate images from textual descriptions. And let’s not forget about StableDiffsusion, a new AI-based technology that allows for the generation of high-quality, realistic images by leveraging the power of diffusion models. With so many exciting applications available, the possibilities for creating images through text are truly endless.
  3. Audio: Bringing Text to Life through AI. Our third segment explored the realm of text-to-audio conversion. We shed light on AI tools and techniques capable of generating lifelike speech from written text, making course materials more engaging and accessible to auditory learners.
  4. Video: Creating Dynamic Learning Experiences with AI. In the penultimate section, we investigated AI’s potential in video production. Discussing the role of artificial intelligence in crafting compelling and informative videos, we emphasised the importance of delivering course content in a visually engaging manner. In addition to Synthesia and Colossyan, there are several other noteworthy applications that are worth exploring. One such application is D-ID, which is a deep learning-based technology that allows for the anonymisation and replacing of faces with natural or fantastical looking options in videos using AI-generated imagery. With the increasing demand for video content in today’s digital landscape, these and other AI-based text-to-video applications offer opportunities for teachers and students to create high-quality videos quickly and easily.
  5. Q&A: Encouraging Audience Interaction. To wrap up our presentation, we engaged the audience in group discussions, addressing questions and concerns stemming from the event. This interactive session fostered a deeper understanding of AI’s role in education and promoted collaboration within our university community. Participants were interested in for example if it was possible to produce materials in Finnish language with these new tools and yes, usually that is also possible.

Conclusion: Embracing AI-powered tools like ChatGPT, Midjourney, and other text-to-audio and video production solutions is revolutionising the way we develop and deliver course materials. By adopting these innovations, we can create more engaging, accessible, and dynamic learning experiences for students across the globe.

AI is not taking away your job, it’s the person that adopts AI that is taking away your job!

Why VR for education?

When considering if a new emerging technology, such as virtual reality (VR), would be a right tool to use in a certain educational situation, one should always think about the specific need.

People usually refer to virtual reality (VR) as a 3D environment that is experienced with the VR headset. It can also be understood as a virtual gamified learning environment, a simulation or 360 content that can be used with the laptop or mobile device. According to Helsinki XR Center´s good glossary and definitions:

VR can mimic reality or be something totally different.

Sometimes other type of media like a video is more powerful, sometimes not. To sum up when VR could be used, teachers could think about the following. If something is not possible in the classroom or with traditional EdTech and online learning tools, then maybe that is possible in VR because:

VR can make impossible possible.

Here is a list of some of the identified benefits of virtual reality as a learning technology:

  • You can travel in time, back and forth. This allows learners to be uniquely immersed in different kinds of future scenarios too.
  • You can travel in place. A teacher can take the class into space or they can live someone else´s life on the other side of the world.
  • You can travel in size. A learner can make big things small and vice versa. It is possible to observe the objects that otherwise would be impossible, like travel inside a cell or a volcano.
  • The complex cause-and-effect relations are easier to understand when seeing the consequences in front of you. What a learner does in VR is affecting to the end result.
  • You can change the perspective and learn empathy. Probably one of the most important benefits of VR is the possibility to see the world from someone else´s eyes. When you imagine the world from another person´s point of view, the gap between oneself and the other decreases and the other becomes more “self like”. This way, VR helps to avoid stereotypes and false or comforting narratives. The research has found out that VR experiences in perspective-taking are especially powerful for people who in general have a hard time feeling concern for others and be empathetic. (Bailenson, 2018)
  • You can explore your identity. Immersion is important in identity exploration because virtual identity doesn´t need to worry about the physical attributes such as gender, race, and disabilities. (Slater, 2009 in Dede et al, 2019). In a virtual world, you can be anyone.

A learning theory that is often referred in relation to VR is situated learning or transferability. Transferability is also one of the key learning design principles defined by OECD (2018). Higher priority should be given to knowledge, skills, attitudes, and values that can be learned in one context and transferred to others. A major criticism of instruction today is the low rate of transfer. Even high performing students often are unable to apply what they have learned in the class to similar real-world contexts (Dede et al, 2019). With virtual reality it is easier to create authentic learning experiences and simulations that feel like real.

VR headset in a university campus

When thinking about the virtual reality and other immersive tools as an educational technology, a teacher can think about the use cases through the following questions:

  • What is the most difficult thing to teach?
  • What is expensive?
  • What needs to be scaled?
  • What is the most important thing to teach?

VR applications are perfect tools for immersive experiences. Immersion is described as the mental state of being completely engaged with something. When learners have a safe space where they can explore things and try if their strategies are efficient, they can take more risks too. When being fully immersed in the virtual world, learners can be so motivated to learn more and are interacting with the content even deeper so that they can even reach the “flow”. That means that they can lose everything else around, even their sense of time (Csikszenthmihalyi, 2014). The educators can also think about the level of immersion they are aiming at – we also have great semi-immersive environments to use like 360 pictures or videos.

We encourage teachers to test and try the possibilities of virtual reality in education. We are excited to hear the use cases you have found and are happy help the teachers at the University of Helsinki to experiment different kind of virtual technologies.

References:

  • Bailenson, J. (2008). Experience on Demand. What Virtual Reality Is, How It Works, and What It Can Do.
  • Csikszentmihalyi, M. (2014). Flow and the foundations of positive psychology.
  • Dede, C. G. (2019). Designing immersive authentic simulations that enhance motivation and learning: EcoLearn. In R. Feldman (Ed.), Learning science: Theory, research, practice. (pp. 229-259). New York: McGraw Hill.
  • OECD. (2018). The Future of Education and Skills. Education 2030.
  • Slater, M. (2009). Place Illusion and Plausibility can lead to realistic behaviour in immersive virtual environments. Philos Trans R Soc Lond, 364, 3549‐3557.

ThingLink basics, tags

View of a laboratory in ThingLink.

 

Greetings, avid reader! Allow me to introduce you to the delightful world of ThingLink. Where the only limit is your own imagination! If you’re looking to add a touch of finesse to your images and videos, look no further than the humble tag. These interactive buttons bring your multimedia content to life and they’re the secret ingredient of ThingLink. In this blog post, I’ll give you a quick rundown of ThingLink in the form of a video.
BTW we used ThingLink for our very first project. You can read about it in our blog entry called Message from the future.

First of all, let’s define what ThingLink is. Simply put, ThingLink is an online platform that allows you to add interactive tags to your images and videos. These tags can include text, images, audio, and video, making your multimedia content much more engaging and interactive. Whether you’re a teacher, a student, or simply someone looking to add a touch of sophistication to your social media posts, ThingLink is the tool for you. Check out the following Miro board where I have put together a very simply yet effective sequence of slides to highlight what ThinLink is.

Now, why is this relevant for our context which is higher education and Edtech and at the end of the day the learners? Well, for one, it is a very intuitive tool and it gives students control over their own learning journey. No more dull lectures or tedious presentations. With ThingLink, students can interact with the material in multiple ways, truly grasping and internalising the information. And let’s be honest, who doesn’t love a bit of control? According to Yarbrough (2019) “more visuals are not only learner preferred, training and educational professionals have identified that visuals support efficient teaching.”

A ThingLink can be considered a version of an infographic. There are ample studies supporting the claim that infographics are very powerful tools. What makes infographics and in an extended way ThingLink too, so useful? Visuals tend to stick in long-term memory, they transmit messages faster and improve comprehension to name a few (Shiftlearning).

Here is a roughly 7 min video walking you through all the tags and how to create them. In Edit mode tags can can be dragged around the base image – you can even pull a line from under a tag and anchor it to a specific point. 

In a next tutorial blog post with video we’ll have a look the settings and dive into the immersive world of 360° images and videos in ThingLink.  

In conclusion, ThingLink is the tool you didn’t know you needed. With its interactive tags and multimedia-rich approach, ThingLink empowers students to take charge of their studies and reach their full potential. So what are you waiting for? Give it a go and see the magic unfold!

BTW when storyboarding the video I had a clear vision of how to implement text to speech (TTS) with an AI voice – little did I know how NOT easy this was  Stay tuned as at some point I will write a how to post about the process of producing the above video. 

Source:

Yarbrough, J. R. (2019). Infographics: In support of online visual learning. Academy of Educational Leadership Journal, 23(2), 1–15.

Shiftlearning. Blog post: Studies confirm the Power of Visuals in eLearning.

 

Re-designing learning spaces: the learning design that meets the needs of future learners!

 

The two main goals of Global Campus project: expanding online learning and conducting innovative and agile EdTech experiments are backed with learning design. We strive to harness pedagogical, technological, and design dimensions of online learning by applying a research-based learning design approach to create engaging and participatory “learning experience”. Using this learner-centered approach, we want to ensure that how learning theories and pedagogical research inform our learning design and that the learner is at the forefront of our development.

Implications from research and practice indicate that the majority of online learning courses and MOOCs lack in terms of pedagogical design and usability. In order to overcome these limitations and to craft pedagogically-informed learning experience ,we employ a learner-centered design framework that makes effective use of appropriate pedagogy and technology.

Learner-centered design framework (Saadatmand, 2017)

The underlining pedagogical principles of this framework are: personalization of learning, social aspects of learning (community and collaborative work) self-paced learning, autonomy, and agency.

The dynamic interplay among pedagogical, technological, and design components help create a learning ecosystem which meets the needs of learners and the essentials of an engaging online learning environment i.e. accessibility, usability, interactivity, flexibility, and multimodality.

 

Harnessing AI – the Midjourney case

AI generated landscape

Let’s discuss AI generated imagery for a second.

What is it?

As an example I use Midjourney. Generating images using artificial intelligence (AI) tools such as Midjourney on Discord has the potential to revolutionise the field of visual content creation. Midjourney, an open-source platform, utilises machine learning algorithms to generate images based on user input. In short so called Convolutional Neural Networks (CNNs) create artistic imagery by separating and recombining image content and style. This process of using CNNs to render a content image in different styles is referred to as Neural Style Transfer (NST). This technology has many practical applications such as in graphic design, digital art, and scientific research. However, the ethical implications of AI-generated images must also be considered, more on this in a bit.

When using Midjourney on Discord, users can input a variety of parameters to generate images. This can include text, numbers, or even other images. The algorithm then processes this input and creates a unique image based on the parameters provided. This allows for a high degree of customisation and creativity when generating images. Additionally, Midjourney also allows the user to generate versions of those images, enabling thus a set of variations of the base image.

Here is a short video on how to use Midjourney via Discord.

One of the key benefits of using Midjourney on Discord is the community aspect of the tool. Users can share their input and generated images with others in real-time, allowing for a collaborative and interactive experience. This is particularly useful for designers and artists working on a project together, as it allows them to quickly and easily share ideas and feedback. Additionally, the Discord integration allows for easy sharing of the generated images, making it easy to share the final output with others.

Are there any issues?

One major advantage of using AI to generate images is its ability to produce a high volume of unique and varied content. This is particularly beneficial in fields such as advertising and graphic design where a steady stream of fresh and engaging visuals is essential. Furthermore, the use of machine learning algorithms in image generation allows for a high degree of customisation and creativity in the final output.

However, there are also valid concerns regarding the ethical implications of AI-generated images. One of the main concerns is the potential for AI-generated images to perpetuate harmful stereotypes and biases. For example, if an AI model is trained on a dataset that contains a disproportionate number of images of a certain race or gender, it may produce images that reinforce these stereotypes. Additionally, the use of AI-generated images in fields such as journalism and news reporting raises concerns about the authenticity and accuracy of the content.

A good example of what consequences training on a specific dataset can mean came up in a recent class action lawsuit in federal court in San Francisco, USA filed by a group of artists – the case is still on-going. Apparently

“text image generators were trained off of a data set called LAION, and they basically are billions of images that help to train the generators. And where artists take issue with it is that our images were put into these data sets and then used to create the generators without our consent.”

Source: NYTimes podcast: Hardfork, Jan 20 2023.

It is important to note that these concerns are not unique to AI-generated images, but rather are issues that have long been present in the field of visual content creation. However, the use of AI does amplify these concerns, and it is crucial that proper measures are taken to mitigate these risks. This can include using diverse and representative training datasets (with consent?), implementing robust ethical guidelines, and providing transparency about the source and authenticity of AI-generated images. In conclusion, the use of AI to generate images has the potential to greatly benefit various fields if implemented correctly.

Overall, Midjourney is a powerful tool for generating images on Discord. Its ability to process input from users and generate unique images, along with its editing tools and collaborative features, make it a valuable tool for a wide range of fields. Whether you’re a designer, artist, or researcher, Midjourney can help you create stunning visual content quickly and easily.

Prompts

Midjourney uses prompts to instruct the NST what the image is suppose to look like. It always starts with a forward slash and IMAGINE (/IMAGINE) and your descriptive text eg. I used the following prompt line for the owl in the right hand side column:

[/IMAGINE logo, funky, scifi, bioluminescence, owl on transparent background]

which resulted in this 4 image square (below). I then chose to Upscale #1 and Version #2 and ended up with a 1024×1024 px sized image of the owl I wanted.

For further reading on how to perfect your prompts to get the result you are happy with I suggest you head over to Midjourney’s Documentation page or check out PromptHero and while you are at it have a look at the Midjourney Community Showcase.

AI generated owl

Exploring the Potential of VR in Group Work

Virtual avatars sitting in a virtual meeting room

The multi-disciplinary sustainability course at the University of Helsinki tested an alternative way of completing the project work using virtual reality (VR) technology.  Students were given the opportunity to use Oculus2 virtual glasses in Meta’s Horizon Workroom application for group meetings where they planned their own course presentation. The goal of the experiment was to evaluate the usability and ease of use of the devices and the efficiency of working in virtual space.

The experiment was part of the University of Helsinki’s Global Campus project, led by EdTech Expert Jussi Wright.  The teacher responsible for the course was the university lecturer Rami Ratvio from HELSUS.  From the tested alternatives, Meta’s Horizon Workroom application was chosen for the actual use test. The program was chosen in part because of the features and its more limited ability to move, which helped to focus on meeting work instead of moving around in free space.

The students who participated in the experiment generally enjoyed the experience and found working in VR mode to be beneficial. The feeling of presence in the virtual meeting was considered to be better than in traditional video meetings, and the meeting atmosphere was felt to be more intense. However, the use of the VR glasses and the program were considered challenging at first, and it was suggested that there should be more time allocated for practice before the course begins.

The Horizon Workroom application also allows for recording meetings, sharing text and image files, and even has the option for one student to act as the organizer and update the agenda on the virtual meeting room’s wall. It’s the perfect blend of technology and organization to enhance the learning experience.

Overall, this experiment demonstrated the potential of VR technology in group work and highlighted the importance of preparing students before using such technology in class. With the right tools and training, VR technology can be a powerful tool to enhance the learning experience, collaboration and improve group work outcomes.