Since 2020, the Online and Digital Learning Department (ODL) has been implementing an online class that utilizes VR in a Fin Tech course at Temple University. Through the classes, we gained insight and feedback on what to update in the VR application. As we move to toward our fourth iteration of the VR class, my team has been reflecting on the technology.
Brief History of the Fox School’s First VR Class
In early 2019, the ODL department was researching in using VR/AR technology in a business course. Many faculty members were interested in using the technology but could not define how to implement it into their class. So, ODL reached out to Pagoni VR, a subsidiary of the Glimpse Group, to see if their application would be a beneficial tool for the Fox school to use in their business classes.
The application, Chimera, offered the opportunity for users to host lectures or events in a virtual space, where the presenters can share documents and stream content into the VR headset. Since the application was made in Unity, the ODL team was able to customize the environment to replicate a case study room at Temple University. There was emphasize in having Temple branding in the environments to create a sense of community since the online student were all outside of Philadelphia. For 6 months, I was tasked to create two environments that followed the structure of a Harvard case study room but also had to replicate Temple’s campus. Once the environment was completed, the ODL team and the Pagoni team hosted a series of usability meetings, to update content and navigate through the space as if we were the professor and students. Some updates that were added were directional sound, personalized avatars, and live-streamed whiteboards, to replicate how students would interact in a traditional classroom. Another component of the application was the Technical Director app, where my team was able to broadcast 180 and 360 content into the VR application through our computers. The TD app (technical director application) also allowed IT support to connect to VR participant through an open audio channel to offer technical support while the participants were still in the headsets.
After 18 months, the VR headset were delivered with an updated versions of the Chimera app. The ODL team provide one-on-one virtual training and infographics to the students 2 weeks before the first class. Meanwhile, the professor was trained in how to lecture in front of a 360 camera as well as navigating through the VR application. Despite the challenges of the pandemic and limited options to meet in person to update the course, the FinTech class still received positive reviews.
One student noted that “It created an environment where everyone felt like they were in the same room. It was very cool to see people turn to look at you while talking. It was an immersive experience, so while in VR, there were no outside distractions.”
Engagement in class was an imperative point we wanted to produce from this course. By limiting distractions, students could focus on class discusses and engage more with the professor. Since online education became a necessity through the pandemic, we needed to learn how VR could possibly be a beneficial tool for online education.
In an article from the Glimpse Group, they stated “Fox is able to develop coursework that brings students together in a common virtual classroom utilizing immersive real-time video to significantly increase the feeling of presence with fellow classmates and their professor launched the course.”
After the first iteration, we continued to update the application and instructional design process to reinforce retention and participating in the class. However, there were a few challenges that were met in experimenting with VR.
Evaluating VR in Education
Through the three iterations of the FinTech VR class, the ODL department proved that the technology worked but faced other obstacles outside of their control.
Weeks prior to a class launch, Meta announced changes to their account policies that forced users to have an active Facebook account instead of an Oculus account. We had to prioritize students’ privacy by refraining from using their personal accounts, but also to ensure that any updates or add-ons was managed by the ODL department. Since the headset are managed by one person, headset deliveries to were delayed until we resolved the hardware issues to host multiple accounts without active Facebook account.
In the 3rd iteration, Pagoni VR migrated to another company that discontinued the Chimera application. The new application, Adept XR, was still in their development phase that offered none of the VR features used in the prior application. In addition, all known representatives from the Glimpse Group were replaced with people that didn’t have any insight in the last two iteration of the course, so there were delays in customizations.
The new application, Adept XR, also requires the Oculus Quest 2 so all current VR headset are unusable and need to be replaced. So, the ODL department needed to secure funding to stay up to date with the newest technology, which is not feasible for many universities or schools. Another financial issue is the license agreement, which has increased, so there’s a necessity to justify purchase to a more expensive applications but also purchase of new headsets.
Lastly, securing more faculty to use VR in the classroom to continue research in VR for online education. Since the application was first offered for a Fintech course, we wanted to compare how other courses could better utilize the tool. However, many faculty members are still in the research phase in understanding the tool and are unsure in how to apply it to their classes.
Since the pandemic, students’ have changed in what they want in a college education and how it will benefit them in their career. Through trial and error, VR had shown to be a useful tool for online education for hosting classroom discussions. However, there are still gaps in the whether this tool is applicable to other courses and if the cost is justifiable. Hopefully the 4th iteration of the class provide insight in how the Fox School will apply this tool in the future.
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