Deakin's Nyaal precinct: the future of learning

Since 2021, Deakin teaching, arts, humanities and social sciences students have delved into a groundbreaking learning experience. Nestled within the Geelong Waurn Ponds Campus, 'Nyaal' – a Wadawurrung word for 'open your eyes’ – is a technology-rich, immersive educational space where students gain profound real-world insights, shaping their future careers.

To learn more, we spoke to Professor Damian Blake, Head of the School of Education, and education students Ethan Coffey and Meghen Daniels.

From concept to completion

In 2017 Professor Damian Blake ran a research project utilising 360-degree cameras to investigate the effectiveness of flexible learning spaces. He quickly realised the potential for this immersive and dynamic learning technology to provide students with a new depth of observation and understanding. So he worked closely with his fellow faculty and university leadership colleagues to develop the vision: an innovative, 360-degree immersive educational space that would give students access to a new world of learning.

By the following year, construction of this world-class facility had begun. Three years later, in 2021, 'Nyaal' emerged at Deakin's Waurn Ponds Campus on Wadawurrung land. Named by the local indigenous community, 'Nyaal' translates to 'open your eyes' – a beacon of discovery.

Unfortunately, the timing was slightly off; Victoria was heading into another lockdown.

‘I was upset at the time. Lockdowns limited our opportunities to launch this innovation, but those who did get the chance to experience it firsthand were truly amazed,’ Professor Blake reflects.

‘But I knew as soon as we all returned to campus, this creative space would change the learning landscape for Deakin students – and our research partners.’

And he was right.

An Australian-first for education

Nyaal is the only education space in Australia that uses this unique blend of 360-degree technology informed by an immersive learning model. It boasts a 75-square-metre, 360-degree theatre with high-definition, ceiling-mounted projectors that bring high-quality images and audio to life, simulating a real workplace. Students step into the theatre and are immediately transported into various real-world scenarios designed to prepare them for life on the job.

Education students can be digitally placed inside a classroom to witness a range of variables, like student behaviour and diverse needs – giving them a powerful experience that optimises and prepares them to become effective teachers. As Professor Blake describes it, the simulations enable students to ‘see things that may otherwise be hidden in plain sight’.

Education student Ethan agrees. ‘Being able to be inside the school walls without physically being there gives us an opportunity to analyse the same scenario from different perspectives. This experience has improved my observation skills during placements. I now feel confident that I can support all my students’ learning needs.’

Collaboration on a new level

Once students have observed the 360-degree simulation, they head to the collaborative ‘think tank’ to discuss, deliberate and problem-solve together. It’s a learning space designed to foster constructive deliberation and critical thinking skills.

‘I love that you get to join your peers after watching the 360-degree classroom simulations,’ says education student Meghen. ‘They always see things I didn’t and vice-versa. It really expands your awareness.’

Professor Blake agrees. ‘One of the most powerful things about Nyaal is it enables students to share experiences and then discuss them deeply. Tiny nuances and varied perspectives can make a big difference in reality. Nyaal offers us a tangible way to teach students these skills before we send them out into the world.’

But the learning doesn’t end there. All immersive videos are available for students to rewatch online through 360-degree headsets from anywhere in the world, as often as they’d like.

‘It's so helpful to know we can access the videos to revisit our experience any time,’ Meghen notes. 'Knowing I can practise changing my focus and diving deeper every time I watch helps me feel confident I won’t miss any important information.’

Empowered teachers = thriving classrooms

When it comes to modern-day teaching and teacher education, it’s important to focus on building the teacher's confidence to create an environment where children can thrive. Pre-service teachers are commonly taught how to build self-regulation in the classroom and create environments that allow children to self-motivate, cooperate and follow instructions.

Nyaal’s theatre space adds a strong practical layer to developing these skills. By transporting students into the classroom, they're given the opportunity to familiarise themselves with this landscape before they’re in the hot seat.

‘Nyaal allows students to witness real-world scenarios, without any potential consequences, while they learn to navigate the complexities of a classroom,’ says Professor Blake.

By affording students this unparalleled perspective, Nyaal builds teacher knowledge and confidence when handling the intricate web of classroom behaviour. The result? A thriving classroom – with better outcomes for the students and the teacher.

‘We need to support all teachers, especially those new to the job, by arming them with the skills to manage modern-day classrooms,’ Professor Blake says. ‘Because research tells us when a teacher feels empowered to make a difference in their students’ lives, job satisfaction increases – which also increases retention in the profession.’

Opportunities beyond education

Nyaal offers many exciting applications for a wide range other industries and careers.

‘As you can imagine, the art students have a wonderful experience getting such an in-depth view into works from all over the world,’ Professor Blake explains. ‘And it’s also a wonderful space for the health, psychology and social sciences students.’

But there are two new areas Deakin is beginning to tap into that are especially exciting.

‘We’ve started running sessions for criminology students, where we use immersive learning technology to transport them inside a prison. We’ve also developed simulations to help them better understand the pervasive impact of concepts such as surveillance in wider society,’ Professor Blake shares.

‘In addition, we’ve hosted high school students and provided various career simulations they don’t usually have access to. Nyaal transports students to real workplaces, like industrial plants, and gives them the opportunity to explore the people and locations associated with it,’ says Professor Blake.

The benefit? Students get a deeper understanding of a career in a particular trade or profession before they choose a pathway.

A new way of learning for an inspired generation

As we look to the future, Nyaal stands as an unrivalled beacon of innovation in education, promising to change the learning landscape forever. The immersive experiences on offer enrich students' academic journeys and shape them into well-rounded, adaptable individuals ready to make a meaningful impact in their chosen fields.

As Victoria’s number one university for facilities and resources* and number one in Australia for education and education research^, the sector-leading precinct is a shining example of Deakin's dedication to and focus on embracing new technologies and teaching methods.

With a plethora of new applications in the works for this immersive learning style, there are plenty of engaging and industry-changing opportunities still to come through a range of Deakin courses in 2024 and beyond.

Ready to immerse yourself in your future career? Explore the range of innovative education and teaching and arts, humanities and social sciences courses on offer at Deakin.


*2022 Student Experience Survey, Quality Indicators for Learning and Teaching (QILT)

^U.S. News & World Report, Best Global Universities Subject Rankings 2022–2023