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Taiwan Tech Institute of digital learning shifts focus to metaverse after winning a social responsibility award for using animations and virtual-reality

Industry: Education

Social responsibility is increasingly becoming an intrinsic aspect of the global higher education systems, following the World Declaration on Higher Education in the Twenty-First Century drawn up at the Conferences on Higher Education organized by UNESCO in Paris in 1998 and 2009.

Taipei, Taiwan (PRUnderground) April 27th, 2022

University social responsibility

Social responsibility is increasingly becoming an intrinsic aspect of the global higher education systems, following the World Declaration on Higher Education in the Twenty-First Century drawn up at the Conferences on Higher Education organized by UNESCO in Paris in 1998 and 2009. Presently, social responsibility has gone far beyond the ‘philanthropy’ of the past. Instead, it focuses on the organizational contribution to sustainable development and proactive solutions to societal and environmental challenges. Consequently, higher education institutions (HEIs) worldwide now embrace sustainability issues and engage their campuses and communities in such efforts, which have led to the development of integrity and ethical values in these organizations and their relationships with stakeholders. Universities view it as the best path towards students’ personal and professional development as well as the promotion of critical and engaged global citizenship, commonly known as University Social Responsibility (USR). Correspondingly, a Global USR Network was established in the United States of America in 2008 to provide platforms for exchanging ideas, resources, policies, practices, problems, and solutions among member institutions. Its membership has since spread across the Asian Pacific, North America, Western Europe, Africa, Australia, and the Middle East.

In Taiwan, the Ministry of Education (MOE) has promoted USR from the year 2018 to position universities as active contributors to local sustainability. The Global Views Monthly Magazine describes USR projects as vital steps in connecting United Nation (UN)’s 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) with the efforts in addressing the developmental needs of local communities, as universities offer solutions to global issues. Between 2019 and 2022, Taiwan USR projects were executed in two phases with the MOE funding 97 universities to carry out 217 projects out of the 437 applications received. Local universities are being encouraged to actively affiliate with regional schools and also to develop international exchange platforms that expand their impact on higher education transformation locally and internationally through the Higher Education SPROUT Project.

Higher Education Sprout project

The “Higher Education SPROUT Project” was initiated in 2018 to deepen connections among local HEIs, create global networks, and take the future lead in enhancing the quality of higher education through multi- faceted development. The project was also intended to bolster the international competitiveness of HEIs and research centers in Taiwan and support disadvantaged students. “Sprout” is an acronym for “Sustained Progress and Rise of Universities in Taiwan”, and symbolizes the beginning of robust growth after seeding of the educational foundation. In the long-term with this project, the ministry envisioned the development of innovative teaching, heightened publicity for Taiwan’s higher education, advancement of university features, and the fulfillment of university social responsibility. Accordingly, some mechanisms have been put towards invigorating networks for local exchanges through public discourse among faculty, students, and the general society on development issues. Many universities are now looking abroad to expand their horizons through increased international engagements and enhanced global links. To create a more robust social network of students, faculty, and the broader community in the present digital age, some universities in Taiwan now use cutting-edge digital technology to address problems in a socially responsible way.

Taiwan Tech uses animations and virtual reality

Taiwan Tech has exceptionally utilized modern digital technologies in fulfillment of social responsibility. In the 2021 Higher Education Sprout Project, the digital learning institute showcased an impressive act of leading junior high school students to study together with community elders through digital storytelling, which entailed animations, graphics, and virtual reality to pass on their life stories. It created an immersive experience for the participants, earning Taiwan Tech a top award in the University Citizen category.

National Taiwan University of Science and Technology (NTUST), or Taiwan Tech as commonly referred to, stands out as one of the local universities that have seized the numerous opportunities offered by present- day digital technologies to promote personal and professional social responsibility. As the most internationalized university in Taiwan, NTUST has implemented several USR projects to integrate its expertise and strengths with national and international programs. In the 2021 Higher Education Sprout Project, Taiwan Tech ranked first in the University Citizen Award category for the third time in a row. Since universities are facilitators of social innovation and nexuses of regional industry-academia partnership, both the foreign and local students of Taiwan Tech formed volunteer teams to introduce new immigrant school children to the culture of their home countries. Faculty members and student teams from the Graduate Institute of Digital Learning and Education led junior high school students to study with community elders, thus encouraging them to pass on their life stories. The activity was conducted through digital storytelling, which primarily involved multimedia elements such as images, text, audio, graphics, animations, filming, and even virtual reality (VR) footage. NTUST students first met with the community elders who narrated their life stories, experiences, societal problems, cultural issues, and environmental concerns. The narrations then made the storylines, and for ease of transmission in the digital age, animations and virtual reality footage was then developed. The final digital stories were then relayed to the junior high school students, who found them interesting and valuable.

Taiwan Tech students listening and recording narratives from the community elders

The use of multimedia elements like animations, graphics, and virtual reality provide a truly authentic experience and boosts attitudes and motivation to share even more. Movable Ink reports that the human brain processes visual images 60,000 times faster than text due to its open receptiveness to pictures. Further, people can remember 65% of visual content up to three days after they have viewed it. These assertions were clearly manifested as Taiwan Tech digital stories greatly impacted the high school students and the community elders alike. In fact, the ability to edit and adapt the narratives to different audiences depicted that digital stories were not only effective in engaging the audience without formal planning experience, but also in creating intergenerational and intercultural conversations. Moreover, the digital narratives in this exercise were easily achieved to create a community memory and can be flexibly shared when required.

Taiwan Tech’s animation production interface for digital stories

Most participants expressed their joy and satisfaction with the shift from the traditional art of telling stories to modern digital storytelling. For them, it was a realization of Jason Ohler’s dream, “I know only one thing about technologies that await us in future: We will find ways to tell stories with them.” They lauded Taiwan Tech for coming up with such a vital program and choosing to integrate technology in conveying people’s experience of the world. The community elders also noted that integrating technology in telling stories to high school students was the most suitable way to catch their attention because they were digital natives. Generally, this activity uniquely manifests Robert McKee quote, “Stories are the creative conversion of life itself into a more powerful, clearer, more meaningful experience. They are the currency of human contact.” NTUST now looks into the future to leverage even more technologies to fulfill USR.

The future of Taiwan Tech’s animation and the metaverse

With the successful use of graphics, VR, and animations at the 2021 USR project, Taiwan Tech now joins the global USR network in finding ultramodern approaches to social responsibility service delivery, especially in the digital age. The institute of digital learning is currently exploring a future of the virtual world, in which social media will be more personal. A metaverse is a place for people to connect, with the ability to do almost anything from creating art and playing games to creating content and teleporting instantly. It will be easier for people to interact more freely, make more online friends, and meet virtual world colleagues. NTUST Graduate Institute of Digital Learning and Education has shifted its focus to a metaverse community, which is expected to be more fun and beneficial. Subsequent USR projects will more likely include the metaverse.

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