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Monday, September 25, 2023

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Showcase Demonstrates VR Technology at SDSU

SDSU’s Instructional Technology Services hosted the Virtual Immersive Teaching and Learning Mixed Reality Showcase on campus.
By Michael Price

The university classroom of the future will likely look very different from the standard lecture hall. Instead of students’ eyes focused on a whiteboard or projector screen, they may very well be immersed in three-dimensional virtual reality (VR) learning environments, exploring Egypt’s pyramids or learning about community investment by virtually walking through real neighborhoods. Earlier this week, San Diego State University’s Instructional Technology Services (ITS) hosted the Virtual Immersive Teaching and Learning Mixed Reality (XR) Showcase to demonstrate the kinds of futuristic technology currently available to educators and to discuss how these technologies can best be used to improve student education.

Guests from a host of SDSU departments, as well as the California State University (CSU) Chancellor’s office, CSU Northridge, CSU Channel Islands, CSU San Marcos, the University of California, San Diego, and media organizations and private companies attended the event. Packed into ITS’ Learning Glass Studio, they witnessed a variety of technical demonstrations.
  • Philip Greiner, director for the SDSU School of Nursing, and associate professor Michael Gates showed guests how the school plans to implement a VR headset and technology known as the Microsoft HoloLens to interact with virtual patients. The students will be exposed to a wide variety of medical scenarios and be asked to respond appropriately, and instructors can monitor the student’s actions and guide them to make correct choices in real-time. The School of Nursing will incorporate the HoloLens in classes beginning in the fall semester.
  • Melanie Olaes, a graduate student in the SDSU Department of Astronomy, took participants on a virtual tour of the moon using a program called the Universe Sandbox and a VR headset known as the HTC Vive. Rather than learning about the planets and their larger universe with physical simulations—the old foam ball on a popsicle stick—students will soon have access to a much more immersive, realistic model of the universe.
  • Harsimran “Sim” Baweja, director of the SDSU Neuromechanics and Neuroplasticity Laboratory, strapped participants into an HTC Vive had them walk a virtual balance beam several dozen (virtual) feet above the ground, demonstrating how his lab tracks people’s heart rate, brain signals and muscle contractions during this stressful but safe task. On a lighter note, participants were also able to experience virtual flight, flying high above a city and exploring its mountainous outskirts.
Following the demonstrations, guests engaged in a lively debate over how to proceed with such technology in the classroom. SDSU computer scientist Steve Price described how his students don’t just want to learn with VR; they’re hoping to design the next generation of VR programs themselves. The more they can be exposed to useful, well-designed programs, the better they’ll be able to incorporate those ideas into their own projects, he said.

“They are becoming the architects, learning the tools to build what they want,” Price said. ”The stuff that they’re going to come up with will be revolutionary.”

Rolling out such technology needs to be done intelligently, though, urged Peter Campbell, founder of xpereal, an immersive learning consultancy. “The question from educators shouldn’t be, ‘How can we use this piece of technology in our classroom?’” he said. “It should be, ‘What experiences do we want our students to have, and can immersive learning help us provide those?’”

The future is not that far off.