Dr Tom Garner is a Senior Lecturer in Immersive Technologies within the Faculty of Creative and Cultural Industries. Having a scientific background and working in the School of Creative Technologies at the University of Portsmouth for a few years, he recently became the Course Leader for the new BSc (Hons) Virtual and Augmented Reality degree.
After graduating from a practice-based BA (Hons) Popular Music and Recording course, Tom studied an MA in Music Composition for Interactive Media, both at the University of Salford. The Masters studies sparked his interest in technological advances, particularly those that provide immersive experiences. This led him to look at ‘audio perception‘ that explored how humans interact with sound. His research into psycho-acoustic principles and behaviour in VR were the focus for his PhD in Psychology at Aalborg University in Denmark.
One of the things Tom most enjoys at the University of Portsmouth is how many industry-connected projects provide students with opportunities he never got as a student. This, in addition to the networking possibilities at Portsmouth, convinced him to come and teach here. Another aspect he considers to be particularly valuable and unique to Portsmouth is having a Business Development Manager in the Faculty, who can provide guidance on grants and can quickly provide links to industry partners in order to progress an idea.
“There is a great balance between applied science and its impact on real life and researching new knowledge at the University of Portsmouth.”
His area of research at Portsmouth is in Extended Reality (XR), which is Virtual Reality (VR), Augmented Reality (AR) and Mixed Reality (MR), for the purposes of education and skills training. These areas of research have practical use in the real world and through the use of motion capture and VR, researchers can emulate how humans react in a real-world environment by looking at their behaviour in a VR experience.
Some of the functional applications of Tom’s research include working with the military and in medicine. In addition, since becoming a lecturer and exploring ways to integrate the technology in higher education, he has worked with radiology at the University’s Dental Academy and the Institute of Cosmology and Gravitation, exploring different ways we can learn in these environments.
“The University is a giant case study. Theoretically, we could apply the research to any department exploring the possibilities and limitations. I want to encourage students to understand and appreciate art and science, and to learn how creativity and technology work together.”
Simulators have been created for enterprise training as part of the work, and the companies developing this technology want to work with higher education. One example of this is the ‘Audience of the Future’ project where MagicLeap provide the hardware such as VR headsets, XYZreality make AR hardware, and nDreams collaborate to provide the software. Undergraduates are assigned client-based group projects in their second year of studies when they can maximise their usage of the technology available.
The aim of his research is to understand the current hurdles in VR creation and development by filling in the gaps of the existing knowledge as new prototypes are tested. Tom wants to help the wider public to use new technology well and in context with the appropriate information. Even though virtual teaching is on the rise, he references the Hype Cycle to explain that upgrades in higher education may not be necessary for the time being. Because VR technology hasn’t reached widespread adoption yet, Tom still observes the students’ preference for human interaction, rather than computerised education.
He recently tested his theories (using Grounded Theory methodology) at Milton Park Primary School as part of STEM week, and received excellent feedback from the 7-9 years old pupils who worked in groups of eight. The unexpected result was how, even though the game was built to be for a single player, the children instinctively helped each other in such a way that created a domino effect, and the participants managed to solve the exercise because of good teamwork and communication. The children’s experience in the trial, called ‘Introduction to Coding’, made him realise that a single VR headset could be used for teaching an entire group, not just a single student.
“I intend to experiment with asymmetrical multiplayer systems, where different users are assigned different roles and capabilities, because teamwork in virtual reality is an area of study that is lacking and definitely needs further exploration.”
Tom is motivated to carry out his research by the means, not the end, because he thinks the process is inherently fun. Although he sometimes spends months writing, for example his books Sonic Virtuality and Echoes of Other Worlds, it is an applied science after all, so he finds it difficult to get bored. Although a long process, he doesn’t find it repetitive: there are many steps between applying for a grant and receiving it, testing the concept, making the project and eventually writing about his findings for journals. Not only is this something that he really enjoys, but also when a project has a real-world impact and proves to be useful, he experiences a greater feeling of satisfaction.
Tom is also passionate about making games, not professionally, but purely creatively as a hobby that he can indulge in. His longest-running project is a life management simulator, Social Currency, which he reveals is “hopelessly ambitious” for an independent developer.
To learn more about Tom’s research visit his Pure profile.