Page 43 - Campus Technology, May/June 2018
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One of the oldest such spaces on PSU’s main campus is the Immersive Environments Lab in the Stuckeman School of Architecture and Landscape Architecture. “Many faculty members use the large-scale immersive display in 3D and it is fairly well integrated into the curriculum,” said lab coor- dinator Danielle Oprean. Faculty members are learning how to integrate the environment with 3D objects they design and create in makerspaces, she added.
For instance, professor José Pinto Duarte has created an im- mersive space for studying urban design, with a focus on Rio de Janeiro’s informal hillside communities known as favelas. “It is dangerous to travel there most of the time,” he explained. “So our idea was to use 360-degree photography and videos to create digital models of the favelas and have students use the VR environment as if they were going on a site visit.”
In another example, Alexander Klippel, a PSU professor of geography, founded a “ChoroPhronesis Lab” that uses ad- vanced geospatial technologies, from 3D modeling to the full range of immersive technologies. He stressed the impor- tance of measuring the impact of immersive environments on learning outcomes. “There is a lot of ‘wow factor’ about the technology, but what we have seen in the past is that it has not necessarily translated into learning success,” he said.
A large geosciences introductory course at PSU studied the learning outcome differences between students who went on a field trip to a site vs. those who experienced it in
a virtual environment. Researchers are writing a paper on the experiment, with results seeming to favor the immer- sive experience. “It may be that the technology helps you understand a place in a way that is not possible when you are right there,” Klippel said.
One of the biggest hurdles for universities has been the high cost of VR-enabled computers and headsets, and some executives say prices must continue to drop before we’ll see more widespread usage. But John Bowditch, director of the
Zach Duer, assistant professor of creative technologies in the School of Visual Arts at Virginia Tech, offered two lessons learned from his experience as immersive environment specialist there:
Be aware of the professional pressures on faculty. If not tenured, faculty members are often motivated by grants and papers. If the immersive lab can offer a grant or help faculty get a grant, you will get more faculty buy-in. Advertise that you can help them with their project and help with a research paper, too. Beyond publishing papers, you can help faculty create video games or art/science installations. Recognize that faculty members may
have different requirements for tenure promotion.
Appeal to students, especially graduate students. Virginia Tech’s Institute for Creativity, Arts and Technology (ICAT) pays for computer science, visual arts and industrial design graduate students to work there. Pulling those graduate students into ICAT starts to attract their faculty mentors as well. In addition, students from different disciplines often begin to work together on projects just because they are put into the same space, and the projects they come up with on their own may be independent of anything the faculty members are doing.
ICAT provides funding for faculty research projects utilizing its Cube immersive space, such as this visualization of tornado data from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

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