Get experts’ perspectives on what it’s really like bringing VR / AR to campus

Expert Insight

Get experts’ perspectives on what it’s really like bringing VR / AR to campus

This article was originally published in the IT Forum Perspectives blog

As more teaching and learning heads start to talk about virtual and augmented reality (VR / AR), have you been left scratching your head? If so, you’re not alone. VR / AR are exciting emerging technologies that leave many IT and Facilities leaders wondering, “Is this technology worth the investment on my campus?”

Recently, EAB hosted a panel on VR / AR to answer this question. Dave Pfaff of Washington & Lee University, Maya Georgieva of the New School, and Tom Lynch and Walter Johnson of Suffolk University shared their experiences adopting VR / AR technologies and answered questions from the audience.

The main takeaway: Though VR / AR technology has a reputation for being costly, it is possible to pioneer virtual and augmented reality on your campus without breaking the bank.

Start small: Acquire VR / AR tools incrementally to maximize ROI

At first glance, virtual and augmented reality technologies have hefty price tags. But it is possible to start small.

To ensure high ROI, the panelists suggested beginning with a modest investment in either low-cost tools like Google Cardboard or a small number of more costly VR headsets. If your campus constituents show interest and student outcomes start to soar, then slowly acquire more expensive VR / AR technology, carefully gauging student and faculty engagement prior to each purchase.

Expanding VR / AR technology into new disciplines may also drive incremental acquisition. Suffolk’s Walter Johnson explained: “In our conversations with Suffolk faculty outside of the Physics department, we realized we could use the [Microsoft] HoloLens to support students’ thesis projects in the School of Art and Design. I went back to our CIO and told him that we needed to order two more.”

The bottom line? “It was an incremental decision,” emphasized Johnson. “We didn’t spend $50,000 upfront on several pieces of technology that we weren’t sure how to use.”

No additional FTEs required: Instead, leverage students to contain costs

Heads of teaching and learning also acknowledge staffing as a chief concern when deciding whether to bring AR / VR to campus. However, the panelists suggested that FTE staffing does not actually need to increase as VR / AR technology gains popularity on your campus.

Why not? Because students often learn to use VR / AR tools independently and their enthusiasm and expertise can then be leveraged to provide tech support to their peers–as well as faculty–who are interested in experimenting with this new technology.

Panelist Maya Georgieva provided an example of this strategy at the New School: “We support courses that use VR / AR technology by assigning them student research assistants, who work side-by-side with students and faculty multiple times over the course of a semester.”

Sometimes these students are university employees but others are simply VR / AR enthusiasts, eager to share their knowledge. “We have no FTEs dedicated to VR / AR support at Suffolk, only students. Some are paid through work study, but others work for free because they enjoy experimenting with VR / AR technology,” Johnson said.

Use common, centralized space

As VR / AR technology becomes cheaper and more popular, higher education institutions will face a new difficulty: allotting the campus space necessary for students to use this technology to its fullest potential.

Currently, many institutions dedicate space in their libraries for VR / AR. Pennsylvania State University has a Technology Innovation Sandbox in their Harrell Health Sciences Library that is a designated space for students learning with VR / AR. The room is also a place for students to operate other technologies like 3D printers and specialized data visualization software. Other schools, like the University of Wisconsin-Madison, simply allow students to reserve VR headsets and controllers from the Information Desk and students find an empty space in the library to try the technology.

Take the plunge into immersive learning

Even if your institution faces significant resource constraints, virtual and augmented reality is not out of reach. Make a modest investment in VR / AR tools, take advantage of early student adopters, and dive into the world of immersive learning.

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