Tasmanian Fulbright Scholar Teaches Virtual Reality Simultaneously at BC and the Other Side of the Earth


James Riggall, a Fulbright Scholar and founder of the Tasmanian start-up Bitlink, introduced students to the virtual world by live-streaming from the collaboratory at Bellevue College to innovation hubs on the other side of the earth in Tasmania.

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Bruce Wolcott (left) and James Riggall.

The Winter Quarter class, Virtual Reality Design and Communications, was geared for anyone who wanted to understand this emerging technology, while another, Virtual Reality Lab Project, gave students hands-on experience in designing and prototyping a virtual reality (VR) project.

Guest speakers also brought their expertise, including Thomas A. Furness III, whom many regard as the “grandfather of virtual reality.” Furness founded the Human Interface Technology Lab at the University of Washington and the University of Tasmania. He also sponsored distance-learning classes co-taught by Riggall and Bruce Wolcott, a professor at Bellevue College with a passion for online learning.

From 2010 to 2012, Riggall and Wolcott tried different technologies that allowed an instructor in Tasmania and an instructor in Bellevue to teach students … anywhere. They experimented with video teleconferencing, Prezi presentations, email, and the WebCT course delivery platform.

They’ve been bouncing ideas off each other ever since.

And they came up with a crazy one—wouldn’t it be great if Riggall came to Bellevue College to help develop the collaboratory and burgeoning makerspace? It also would be an opportunity to take a deep dive into how virtual reality will change the educational landscape. The only way they thought it could work was if Riggall applied for a Fulbright scholarship, which he did. And got.

“He’s extremely creative, and completely driven by the idea that any place can foster their own Silicon Valley,” said Wolcott. “When he got his education, he didn’t think his next immediate step was to pursue a career in a city with lots of opportunity. It was to bring that opportunity to the local level, and build bridges between business, education and the community to launch high-tech learning spaces. He’s someone who turns a barrier into a reason to do things in a new way. If the way doesn’t exist, he’ll make it.”

A participant gets hands-on with Virtual Reality

The courses explored a new educational model that literally and figuratively dissolved the four walls of a classroom. Not only were the VR classes live-streamed to a collaboration hub half a world away, but the classes were taught in an open space in the Library Media Center, where any passing Bellevue College student could stop, listen and learn.

“We have to redefine our conception of space, and access, to create a sustainable future,” Riggall said. “In the cities you have lots of job opportunities confined to a narrow physical location, which leads to a high cost of living. In rural areas there isn’t the same breadth of opportunities, so people leave. Ultimately education and business are about building relationships, and video and texting haven’t been able to compare to face-to-face interactions in a certain, human way. Virtual reality could change that. If we can build an interactive, educational and collaborative model that develops real relationships between Bellevue, Washington, and Launceston, Tasmania, we can scale that out anywhere.”

– by Nicole Beattie


Last Updated June 25, 2018