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Radlab’s immersive virtual reality experiences enhance online learning during pandemic

Virtual Creighton University building in desert landscapeHow would you like to explore the Middle Ages? Or prehistory? Or the future?

Or maybe you’re content to set your sights a little closer to home and just want to visit a familiar classroom.

Creighton University’s Radlab created a series of immersive virtual reality experiences with the broad potential for use in the classroom, particularly in the post-COVID-19 world.

“There’s a misconception that, in order to use virtual reality, students have to be tethered to goggles that you wear on your face,” says Ryan Cameron, EdD, assistant vice president for digital experience in the Division of Information Technology. “What we’ve developed is technology that’s free to access and uses a standard video screen to interact with the content. We think this configuration opens up more doors for the students of today and tomorrow.”

For one project, the Radlab is partnering with the Heider College of Business to develop a team-based virtual reality course in which students cultivate essential project management skills. In the course — designed by Rodney Verhoeff, an instructor in the business school — students use VR technology to explore three digital worlds: Medieval World, Jurassic World and Future World. The students must work in teams, honing their communication skills, to assemble pieces of a teleporter that allows them to traverse different areas of the game.

Medieval virtual realityThe course is modeled on an earlier, face-to-face version, in which students worked with various materials including plastic bricks and remote-controlled cars to simulate a transportation infrastructure project.

“This VR ‘gamification’ approach is one of the best proxies to emulate this face-to-face exercise to capture that same energy and collaboration, while also promoting team-based learning,” Verhoeff says. The course was made possible through Sansar, a virtual reality platform that allows for user-created 3D spaces in which users can interact with the environment through an avatar, says Kathy Craig, director of innovation, research and development. Chad Brocker, digital experience designer in the Radlab who designed the digital worlds for Verhoeff’s class, also used the program to create a virtual Creighton “classroom” that can be modified by faculty members. The virtual room includes a screen in which faculty can present course videos, and students can interact with each other and with their professors through their digital avatars, Craig says. And such an environment offers many opportunities to enrich the online learning experience, Cameron says.

“It’s definitely better than a Power Point,” Cameron says. “Thinking dimensionally and utilizing spatial skills is a whole other endeavor. It opens the door to a more immersive student experience. Things become more tangible and real. VR provides another layer of interaction.”

Virtual castle for fablesThe Radlab has also been working to create a virtual repository for a series of fables collected by the Rev. Greg Carlson, SJ, associate professor of English and Theology at Creighton. The Radlab has created a virtual castle, which serves as a museum for a selection of the more than 8,000 fables and 4,000 artifacts in Fr. Carlson’s collection. Users can explore the collection digitally using their avatar.

Particularly during the pandemic, when many people are limiting outside experiences in the interest of social distancing, immersive experiences like these are all the more important, Cameron says.

“We want the Creighton community to be able to connect with these resources and to take advantage of them,” he says. “You don’t have to be an expert in virtual reality to get started in this space. That’s what the Radlab is all about. Being able to demystify these disruptive technologies and bring them to Creighton in a very practical way.”

The Radlab has created a guide to Sansar, available to the Creighton community and the general public, via BlueLine.

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