UCD Innovation Academy Launches Ireland’s First Virtual Reality Undergraduate Class for Future Skills

20 pioneering UCD undergraduate students today begin a unique learning experience designed to equip them with vital skills such as critical and analytical thinking, teamwork, communication, and business acumen through an immersive virtual reality programme.

This fully accredited undergraduate module, Virtual Reality for Future Skills, puts students in the position of Chief Operating Officer of Lightning Bikes, an e-bikes company. The students journey through a series of scenarios tailored to challenge and nurture various transversal skills – key skills that cut across jobs, tasks and academic disciplines whose importance will continue to rise as the adoption of automation and artificial intelligence change the face of work.

Professor Suzi Javis, founding director of UCD Academy, said: “Transversal skills globally rank among the most important skills our graduates will need in the future of work; however few universities have dedicated programmes to nurture these future skills.

“We’re excited to launch this undergraduate module, combining cutting-edge technology with an immersive, experiential programme, offering students the dual benefit of nurturing in-demand transversal skills as well as virtual reality literacy, a medium we’ll all be working in in the future.”

Research by LinkedIn has shown that soft skills are more important than ever in a hybrid environment; Irish business leaders say they value collaboration (34 percent) and communication (30 percent) as the two most important skills employees need to succeed in the future.

Virtual Reality for Future Skills is part of UCD Innovation Academy’s project, Convene, funded by the Government’s Human Capital Initiative Pillar III project which seeks to transform how universities and enterprise work together, and introduce more innovative and agile ways of teaching into higher education.

UCD Innovation Academy partnered with Cappfinity, a strengths assessment company, in developing the programme. The collaboration meant that Cappfinity brought insight drawn from working with some of the biggest names in enterprise globally and combined this with UCD Innovation Academy’s ten years designing and delivering experiential learning programmes to nurture creativity, innovation, entrepreneurship and transversal skills.

Maurice Knightly, Education Innovation Lead at UCD Innovation Academy who leads the programme, explained: “Virtual reality gives users a sense of immersion and ‘presence’ in scenarios like the workplace that cannot be created in a standard classroom; it’s the perfect medium for students to practice and learn transversal skills like decision making and analytical thinking in a safe space.”

Students will complete tasks including evaluating user feedback about the current product and choosing a new model from a range of prototypes to bring to market, attending a staff meeting where the team will be discussing a key strategic move the business needs to make and pitching to investors in a ‘Dragon’s Den’ style environment. A comprehensive wrap-around support programme including reflective exercises and peer mentoring accompanies the virtual reality experience.  Students who take the PicoNeo headsets home for the duration can redo different sections as often as they want and meet weekly in person during the ten-week programme.

Oscar Lyons, Head of Virtual Reality at Cappfinity and a UCD graduate, explained: “Across our client base, which includes a large proportion of the top 100 graduate employers, Cappfinity sees virtual reality playing a key role in the recruitment, development and day to day working lives of employees in the coming years.

“We are supporting clients as they navigate the emergence of a set of technologies that will revolutionise the workplace in the same way that personal computers and the internet have previously. Developing the skills that students will need to succeed in this new paradigm is a bold and forward thinking move by UCD and we are excited to be supporting it.”

Eleanor Kelly, who leads Convene at UCD Innovation Academy, the Government’s Human Capital Initiative that funds the module, said: “Through this module, UCD Innovation Academy is adding a new – virtual – dimension to its mission to equip students with the skills they need to excel in the future.

“The Metaverse is billed to become all pervasive and powerful, revolutionising everything from finance to healthcare – we’re excited to give students from all disciplines a grounding in virtual reality skills and crucially to support them to learn communications, teamwork and leadership and more – skills that will only grow in importance as the metaverse emerges.”