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RMIT Online launches AR and VR courses using Amazon Sumerian

The university has also adopted Amazon Sumerian to build a virtual assistant to help students with admin and scheduling.

Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology (RMIT) Online will now be offering short courses in artificial intelligence (AI), and virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR), thanks to a new partnership with Amazon Web Services (AWS).

Announced at the AWS Public Sector Summit in Canberra on Wednesday, the AR/VR courses will be using Amazon Sumerian, a service that allows developers to quickly create AR, VR, and 3D apps suitable for use online, as well as mobile devices, head-mounted displays, and digital signage.

RMIT's newly launched courses -- Developing AI Strategy, Developing AR and VR Strategy, and Developing AR and VR Applications -- are adapted from the AWS Educate global program and are designed to address tech-driven changes in the workplace, AWS added.

"They are intended to provide embedded pathways for professionals to gain AWS Cloud computing skills and prepare them to gain micro-credentials and AWS certifications," the cloud giant continued.

According to RMIT Online CEO Helen Souness, the short course offerings are expected to help address the skills gaps in the AI and AR/VR fields.

"What we see in all of our industry conversations ... everyone is saying the thing that will hold us back is a skills shortage," she told the public sector-focused audience.

"My team's mission is to build a community of lifelong learners, successfully navigating the world of work ... yes, sometimes your degree is the right solution education wise for a person, but throughout our lives, certainly I know in my digital career, constantly we need to be updating our skills and understand the new, emerging technology and talk with experts."

Souness said RMIT is very conscious that AR and VR use is on its way to mass adoption.

"We're already there and people need to get their heads around it," she said. "We know there will need to be more people that know how to actually build these apps.

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RMIT is also trialling AR and VR, alongside AI, to enhance the student experience through the introduction of an Artificial Intelligence Digital Assistant (AIDA).

"We were really excited to meet with AWS earlier this year to learn about some of the technologies coming out," she said. "And one of the technologies that we saw huge potential when we saw the demo of Sumerian for the first time was in the area of belonging -- a really important strategy for us, for our students."

She said it was having that social connection to the institution and fellow students, even if not on-campus.

"We know from our own research ... that social connection, belonging, not only increases student engagement while they are studying, but it also impacts graduation outcomes -- they are more successful if they have a sense of connectedness," Souness continued.

"AIDA was built very quickly using the tools and capabilities of the Amazon Sumerian platform as a digital assistant operating on a number of platforms, frankly wherever students are spending time. She's on Facebook, she's on Google, responding text messages.

"She is responding already to queries about fees, she can go into our databases and validate the student; she can answer questions about timetabling, locations around the campus ... she can look at your personal timetable and look up the social activities, the sporting activities, the things that can increase interaction with fellow students where you have free time in your timetable."

Already at the prototype stage, Souness said AIDA is able to respond to 16 percent of student queries, which equates to around 12,000 interactions.

"What that allows us to do is get away from the mundane look-ups of a database field," Souness said.

"We think we're really standing at the tipping point of adopting some of these technologies ... we don't think it's the future, we think it's now."

AWS also launched the Young Women Leaders in Artificial Intelligence Program on Wednesday, a year-long program for 75 Australian women to advance their careers in AI.

See also: Canberra wants more women to take up STEM roles

The program was created by IntelliHQ, an AI and machine learning-focused not-for-profit, and is supported by technology advisory firm KJR.

The program, which has secured funding from the federal government's Women in STEM and Entrepreneurship (WISE) program, will be built around an annual leadership camp, and provide successful applicants with ongoing mentorship, local events, and scholarship opportunities to support career advancement.

The initiative includes an online education campaign highlighting issues in AI gender bias, and featuring education sessions from those working in AI.

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