Vision for the Exxaro Chair in XR Technology - Prof Ina Fourie

Vision for the Exxaro Chair in Extended Reality (XR) Technology

 

 

Prof Ina Fourie

Department of Information Science, University of Pretoria

Prof Fourie's profile
 

 

Vice Chancellor and Principal of the University of Pretoria, Prof Kupe; CEO of Exxaro Resources, Mr Mgojo; EBIT Dean, Prof Maharaj and other distinguished guests – as Head of the Department (HoD) of Information Science, it is an honor to address you for this virtual launch.

In particular I want to welcome the staff and students working and studying in the Department of Information Science in the Multimedia field of specialisation. They represent the future of what the Exxaro Chair in XR technology can achieve in delivering on its commitments. I also want to extend a very warm word of welcome to alumni of the Multimedia degrees – what you have achieved in industry and academia strengthens our beliefs that we can dream big and that the Chair would fulfill the vision I will sketch tonight.

With the Exxaro Chair in XR Technology, we are not starting from scratch. Without the ground-breaking vision to start the Multimedia degree programmes (bachelors, honours and masters), there would not have been people like Koos de Beer and his colleagues lecturing in Multimedia and building expertise in virtual reality, extended reality and other immersive technologies. There would not have been people who could negotiate with Exxaro to invest in a Chair. My vision for the Chair, therefore, builds on the work of my predecessors – former HODs – the late Prof Hans Boon and in particular Prof Theo Bothma. I also owe credit to Prof Archie Dick who during his term as HoD supported Koos de Beer and Prof Ronny Webber-Youngman (HoD Mining Engineering) to pursue the dream of an Exxaro funded chair in XR technology.

Prof Boon Prof Bothma Prof Dick Mr De Beer Prof Webber-Youngman

For a few moments, I will therefore step back to reflect on the past, as the basis for my vision for the future.

In the late 1980s / early 1990s, the Department of Information Science changed its focus from Library Science to Information Science under the leadership of the then-HoD, the late Prof Hans Boon. When Prof Theo Bothma joined the Department in 1991, he was tasked to develop content in the areas of hypertext, hypermedia and multimedia. During these early days Prof Bothma organised various hypermedia conferences, invited international keynote speakers and attended international conferences on hypermedia, hypertext and multimedia in Europe, the UK and the USA. These enabled him to observe new trends and technologies, to spearhead the introduction of the Multimedia degree programmes at the bachelors, honours and masters levels and to secure interdisciplinary support from other departments such as Computer Science and Visual Arts. In 1998 the initial BA Multimedia degree was renamed as a B.IS degree – Bachelor of Information Science, with specialisation in Multimedia. From 1993 to 1999, the Department also presented short courses as continuing professional development programmes for information professionals and the general public including topics related to multimedia and hypermedia principles and development. The Department of Information Science showed leadership in gaining national recognition for innovative thinking, striving for a balance between practical implementation and industry needs and theory, curriculum development, establishing forums for scholarly discourse and collaboration enriched by international expertise and above all, for capacity building and empowerment of newcomers to the field and for stimulating awareness amongst library and information professionals and society at large.

Since the early days, the programmes in Multimedia have gone from strength to strength – existing modules were regularly revised, new modules were added, industry collaboration increased, and new technologies and platforms were regularly introduced. This led, amongst staff members, to an enhanced interest in gaming and game development, both in research and in the learning/teaching environment, in virtual reality and immersive technologies, which eventually led to the establishment of the Virtual Reality and Interaction (VRI) Lab in the Department of Information Science. Further extension of collaboration across disciplinary boundaries led to collaboration with the Department of Mining Engineering, closer ties with industry, and, now, to the establishment of the Exxaro Chair in XR Technology.

Part of my vision for the Chair is to reclaim and extend on the existing reputation the Department of Information Science has developed in Multimedia education. Moving forward I hope that the Chair will enable the Department to draw on industry and multi-disciplinary collaboration, such as with the Department of Mining Engineering, to uphold a collaborative coalition globally renowned for:

  • development of standards and best practices for using XR and other immersive technologies in the mining industry – as a point of departure.
  • innovative leadership in the use of immersive and XR technologies in mining safety training and related challenges experienced in the mining industry. That entails recognition for tailored product development and the development of methodologies to audit and map industry challenges to software solutions.
  • driving generic, interdisciplinary transferable XR solutions for safety training and eventually other applications.
  • innovative and rigorous use of multi-methods research methodology to strengthen XR scholarship and postgraduate and postdoctoral research. Action-research, agile methodology, participatory design, user experience testing and user participation, analytical autoethnography and systematic and critical interpretive reviews might be considered. Graduates and their supervisors should be recognised for the brilliance of their products and innovations, the rigor of their research and the impact of their work in academia, in industry and society at large.
  • innovative instructional design and didactics in training XR developers, designers and researchers.
  • formation of communities of practices and platforms for stimulating, engaging scholarly discourse. Webinars, workshops, symposia and innovation hubs offer excellent opportunities to establish leadership in setting trends, for recruiting postgraduate researchers and to establish research collaboration.
  • ability to raise awareness amongst marginalised communities for potential careers in XR technology development and use, and for addressing equity disparities through innovative short introductory training opportunities for the public in the use of immersive and XR technologies.

 

My vision for the Exxaro Chair can be captured as follows:

Using external funding to meet the development needs of the funder, but above all to secure an international scholarly reputation for development, research, theory and curriculum development, interdisciplinary collaboration and exemplary dissemination of research and products.

The Exxaro Chair in XR technology should enable the funder and the receivers of funds to be recognised as leaders in addressing social inclusion, equity and diversity.

My grandmother used to say (very appropriately at the time) that you can never have enough handkerchiefs. An academic department and a research Chair can never have enough committed people whose eyes glisten with excitement and dreams of achievement and making a difference. The Exxaro funding would make this possible.

The EXXORO Chair in,
XR Technology
officially launched by
Mr Mxolisi Mgojo, CEO of Exxoro, and
Professor Tawana Kupe,
Vice-Chancellor and Principal,
University of Pretoria,
on 1 September 2021.

Author: Prof Ina Fourie

Published by Joukje Geertsema

Copyright © University of Pretoria 2022. All rights reserved.

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