Research for a secure and sustainable world

VR for a security and sustainability

Knowledge is power. We’ve been saying it for centuries, in many different languages and in many different settings.

The origins of this proverb are thought by some to be rooted in the ancient Indian language, Sanskrit. Others believe the phrase was first uttered by an Imam named Ali Bin Abi Taleb (600-661).

Since then, it has been voiced by many great thinkers – from philosophers Francis Bacon and Michel Foucault to US President Thomas Jefferson. 

These wise minds understood that new knowledge can sharpen our problem-solving skills to become a razor-edged tool that can change the world – for the better. 

Research is the foundation upon which knowledge is built. 

When the world wants answers to complex problems, like security and sustainability, it turns to research. Because research makes progress possible.  

So, where are we headed in the pursuit of new knowledge?  We’re bringing Indigenous reconciliation into businesses, eliminating frailty in old age and inspiring classrooms with VR.

Bringing the world to the classroom  

If the sudden COVID-forced pivot to mass online learning in 2020 taught educators around the world one thing, it’s whether a “storytelling technique [is] going to sufficiently motivate and engage a learner,” says educator and filmmaker, James Calvert. 

Calvert is one of the brains behind Thin ICE VR, a world-first historical recreation of explorer Sir Ernest Shackleton’s journey across Antarctica, with key lessons about our climate crisis. He’s been researching the benefits of teaching and learning through virtual reality. 

“When we put a headset on and we step into a virtual world and all of our senses are engaged, we're no longer in a classroom. To make an analogy, it's like learning from a textbook, or a screen, versus learning on a field trip.”

As part of this research, data was collected from year-10 students across Australian high schools following a 40-minute-long Kokoda VR experience. Students were asked to report back on the lessons they had learnt about the 96-kilometre Kokoda Track in Papua New Guinea–the location of the World War II battle between Japan and Australian forces.  

“The virtual reality experience led to increased knowledge gain and also increased affective gains,” says Calvert.

“Motivation and engagement were higher, but also emotional connection was higher. You're not just watching some soldiers on a screen talk about what it was like to be in this campaign, but you're actually standing in amongst them in a camp and you have this increased feeling of empathy.” 

Reimagining ageing 

Since 2018, people over the age of 65 years and older have outnumbered children younger than 5 years. People are living longer, but not always enjoying quality of life. 

According to gerontologist and health service researcher Dr. Rachel Ambagtsheer, how we think about age and ageing is crucial to our future security and sustainability – and needs to shift. 

“To just assume that older people are in residential care facilities and there's nothing that can be done for them, that's a very unfortunate attitude to have. I think that's something that needs changing.”

Dr. Ambagtsheer’s research focus is on frailty, a condition of potential vulnerability and increased risk of negative outcomes. A person who is considered frail is much more susceptible to fractures, falls and hospitalisation. 

Considered one of the largest general practice studies that have been conducted on frailty worldwide, Dr. Ambagtsheer’s research is ultimately aiming to prevent older people from suffering through a lonely experience. 

“A lot of frailty assessments are essentially about gaining a better multidimensional understanding of the older person as an individual,” explains Dr. Ambagtsheer. 

“Frailty does tend to draw you into yourself a little bit. If you don't feel well enough to walk around your neighbourhood, then inevitably you're going to have less social contact with people and with your community.” 

“If we raise awareness, then we're more likely to be able to identify those people who are in those vulnerable positions and put supports around them to make sure that that they're not suffering through that kind of experience.”

Dollars and sense 

It’s often said that ‘culture comes from the top.’ According to Dr. Hayden McDonald, how we go about business needs massive reform. He says innovation demands “the diverse opinions of different people, groups, and organisations.”

The research that Dr. McDonald is doing informs businesses in adopting Reconciliation Action Plans (RAPS), which provide a framework for organisations to be inclusive and equitable. 

“What we're looking at is how RAPS can be aligned to each organisation's existing management control systems. So, their internal policies, their internal key performance indicators, and also how each RAP can be tailored to suit the specific needs of that organisation.”

“We see a real opportunity in terms of creating training programs, education systems, to up-skill businesspeople in terms of some of the regulatory areas of traditional or mainstream business process.”

“At the same time, really validating the importance of that cultural connectivity and that appreciation for a different way of valuing the environment and sustainable issues.”

By partnering with ASX listed companies, Dr. McDonald has seen a real demand for addressing social justice issues and the benefits of aligning profit with purpose. He says, when it comes to RAPS, “the long-term benefits to shareholders are extremely valuable.”

Listen to Research That Matters to hear more about the research projects of James Calvert, Dr. Ambagtsheer and Dr. McDonald in Episode 3: Security and Sustainability.

Research That Matters, is a 9-part podcast series featuring researchers from Torrens University Australia, who are working to solve complex global problems and to propel innovation. Hosted by Clement Paligaru and produced by Written & Recorded

Find all episodes of Research That Matters at

Explore Master of Economics of Sustainability by Torrens University in Partnership with Modern Money Lab.

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