VR in Higher Education: U.S.

Virtual reality programs have been appearing in university programs across the U.S. in the past five years. Fordham University’s VR program helps MBA and business school students learn teamwork in the classroom and from remote locations, North Carolina State University’s DELTA program teaches about 750 students per year about biological ecosystems with VR, and San Diego State University’s VITaL helps astronomy students to grasp concepts faster than instruction alone.

Fordham University

  • To help students learn the power of communication and teamwork, the Gabelli School of Business started to utilize virtual reality exercises in its programs. This program was pioneered by Julita Haber for the Executive MBA program at Fordham’s Westchester campus.
  • The VR program helped teach teamwork by simulating physical obstacles such as cliffs where teamwork and critical thinking skills were required to get by. Students have given this program high praise, saying that they were better able to solve difficult programs under pressure.
  • Since then, the VR program has made its way into more classes on the Bronx campus. In an “Exploring Entrepreneurship” class, students are placed in simulations where their networking and high-stakes negotiation skills are worked on.
  • Fordham also has Project Chimera where students can sit in classes in remote settings using VR headsets. This program allows them to participate in the classroom as if they were physically there.
  • Lyron Bentovim, a professor who is currently teaching the “Exploring Entrepreneurship” class, fully expects that there will be more VR integration in the future. He said the need for a classroom may be negated with further use of this technology.

North Carolina State University

  • The Distance Education and Learning Technology Applications (DELTA) unit at North Carolina State University uses virtual reality for their Introductory Biology: Ecology, Evolution, and Biodiversity (BIO 181) course. About 750 students per year are taught with this method.
  • VR is used to help immerse students in a field-based experience where they can find and observe organisms in their natural habitats.
  • Videos are shot with 360-degree cameras so that students can be fully immersed when viewing virtual field trips. The students are also able to tap on hot spots to gain more information about the organisms that live in those habitats.
  • The project started in September 2016 with the first production site at Laurel Hills Park in Raleigh, North Carolina. Since then, the DELTA project team has captured 360-degree video at various sites around North Carolina, including a barrier island on the coast of Beaufort and Merchants Millpond in Gatesville.
  • DELTA’s professors and experts expect that the VR program will be reused in different ways to tell numerous stories in the future.

San Diego State University

  • The school’s Instructional Technology Services unit launched its Virtual Immersive Teaching and Learning initiative (VITaL) in 2017. This initiative tests the use of AR, VR, and mixed reality for a variety of disciplines.
  • One discipline that this new unit has been especially helpful in is Astronomy. According to Gur Windmiller of the College of Sciences, the VR experiences helped students understand concepts that were difficult to explain verbally. Students can play around with astronomical subjects in different sandboxes.
  • According to a study conducted by Windmiller, et al., usage of VITaL improved quiz scores by an average of about 1 compared to only a lecture. They deem the use of VITaL in astronomy instruction a huge success.
  • For the future, they are looking to replace traditional lectures completely with VR. With the help of simulation software like Universe Sandbox 2, they expect that the overhead that comes with training will be reduced.

Western Carolina University (NC)

Pennsylvania State University, Altoona

  • The Pennsylvania State University at Altoona’s Rail Transportation Engineering program enables students to use a locomotive simulator to virtually check out railroad infrastructure, railcars, and locomotives. With this simulator, they can do tasks such as track building and welding as they would in the field.
  • The simulator is part of the program’s Teaching Railway Applications through Immersive Learning and Network Simulation (TRAINS) laboratory. In courses such as Railroad Mechanical Practicum, students learn and practice welding using the virtual welder trainer.
  • In 2018, students from the program went to Europe to record 360-degree videos at various central European railroad locations. They collected 360-degree footage of railroads, signals, terminals, trains, train interiors, and yards. This equipment was provided through a $15,000 education grant from the National Railroad Construction and Maintenance Association and launched the first Virtual Education Lab on the university level in the railway industry.
  • They even put up some of their 360-degree videos on their YouTube page. This content was implemented in their simulator.
  • Their instructors agree that the VR program will continue to make students “pre-qualified for the rail workforce.” Because of the strength of their program, Penn State Altoona’s RTE program has a 100% placement rate after graduation in locomotive and railway companies such as AECOM, Union Pacific, Amtrak, and Siemens.
  • Feedback from both students and faculty have been glowingly positive. VR is expected to continue helping RTE students be ready for a competitive global sector.
Glenn is the Lead Operations Research Analyst at The Digital Momentum with experience in research, statistical data analysis and interview techniques. A holder of degree in Economics. A true specialist in quantitative and qualitative research.

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