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Offering Classroom Experiences with Mixed Reality

Majority of the people, who have tried to use virtual reality, find it cool, maybe a little uneasy at first. 3-D printing and scanning and augmented reality draw out wonderstruck expressions.

However, at a session held in Denver on “mixed reality” (abbreviated XR), attendees wanted to know from the evangelists whether students can learn by using these tools and institutions with minimum budgets can carry off ambitious projects or not.

The panellists, one each from Hamilton College, Florida International University, Yale University and Syracuse University had answers to all the queries. They had just completed the first year of a joint research project sponsored by Hewlett-Packard and authorised by Educause to explore the capacity for immersive technology to transmute classroom experiences.

Christopher Brooks, director of research at Educause, thinks that three-dimensional technologies let students do stuff that they would not do or go to places they could not otherwise. Users can get transported inside microscopic cells or to space, augmented reality provides students with the power of object manipulation.

Three-dimensional technologies let students do stuff that they would not do or go to places they could not otherwise. – Christopher Brooks

Mixed reality’s classroom applications may come in multiple forms. While 3-D printing may apparently render itself ideally to science, Yale’s humanities departments have started understanding the technology as a way to answer difficult philosophical questions.

Students in the College of Communication, Architecture and the Arts (CARTA) at Florida International University, went to the  CARTA Innovation Lab to create 3-D printed objects for several clients, including a surgeon, who looked forward to creating exact replicas of internal organs to assist patients in getting an insight into their medical conditions.

A member in the audience asked the panellists to suggest such initiatives at his own campus where some members of the faculty have hardly progressed from printing worksheets to creating PDF versions of course materials.

Yale’s director of campus IT partner relationship and development, Randall Rode, wishes to drive away the myth around virtual reality belonging only to the elite, rich and affluent institutions. With headset costs getting reduced massively, some serviceable models can be availed at a few hundred dollars. He insisted that institutions should avoid investing in hardware and shift towards online products, such as Organon, Unity and You by Sharecare available free of cost. All these products permit users to create 3-D experiences from their desktop computers.

He also suggested institutions to get a one or two Oculus Gos and not more than that as, by the time they will learn how to use them, the merchandise will turn obsolete.

Other institutions that were associated with the session included :

  • Gallaudet University
  • Case Western Reserve University
  • Harvard University’s Graduate School of Education
  • Massachusetts Institute of Technology
  • Lehigh University and the University of San Diego.

Brooks divulged that plans for another unit of institutions to undertake a similar effort is underway. He went on to say that, in the meantime, Educause is going to start an online campus survey on experiences of virtual reality, later this month, and publicise the results at the Educause Learning Initiative conference the coming February in Anaheim, Calif.

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