Over Thanksgiving I had the honor of visiting Grand Valley’s Atomic Object Technology Showcase (disclaimer, Grand Valley is my alma mater). I was giddy when I entered the Mary Pew Library. Ground was being broken on the site for the majestic library on the Allendale campus when I graduated. Now it was filled with students studying, working on group projects, and dreaming of everything life has to offer them (at least that’s how I felt on entering the library).
The Technology Showcase is on the lower level of the library. It’s hard to miss the LED graphic backdrop to the Showcase’s sign and if you have any doubt where you’re at, simply look through the floor-to-ceiling windows and gaze at students working the 3D printers and wearing VR headsets inside.
What made me so excited to visit the Atomic Object Technology Showcase wasn’t just the fact that I’m fascinated by virtual and augmented reality (where it’s been and where it’s going) but how a liberal arts university implements immersive and emerging technology.
I was greeted by Carson Kunnen, an advertising major at GV. He gave me a tour of the showcase, starting with the 3D printers. There are two 3D printers in the lab. Any student at Grand Valley can upload a .odt file to the queue to have their model printed for free. One example of students using the printers for class; a professor in the music department has her students pick an instrument to have 3D printed in the showcase.
Next he showed me the HP Sprout that can make a 3D model of any scan and that scan can then be 3D printed. There were smart circuits and cubes, robots, and finally virtual reality. Faculty at Grand Valley work with Eric Kunnen (Associate Director of eLearning and Emerging Technologies at GVSU) and Hunter Bridwell (Digital Media Director) to re-create student assignments in an immersive way.
Bridwell told me that virtual reality and 360 video gives more context to projects students are asked to complete. In one history class, instead of asking students to write a paper for the final project, the professor took 360 degree photos of downtown Grand Rapids. The students then added links in the photos to parts of their papers to describe what was happening with civil rights in Grand Rapids at that time.
Bridwell talked about the possibility of students brining 360 cameras with then to their classes so professors could observe their student teaching without having to drive all over the state.
Bridwell also talked about a chemistry project with the Hololens. He pointed out into the hall and described turning it into a battle between a virus and white blood cells. He described looking out into the library and seeing giant virus infected cells looming towards you, out of the corner of your eye you see smaller, white blood cells rushing to attack the virus. It’s like going for a ride on the Magic School Bus, but in your university library.
VR, AR, and beyond in education
Bridwell and Kunnen’s vision for the tech showcase ranges across a variety of areas. It shows how versatile immersive and emerging technology is to a liberal arts education.
Faculty can teach in new ways because the technology enables them to broaden what they can do in a course.
Students get hands on experience working with the technology. They’re encouraged to think of creative uses for 3D printing, using the Showcase for media creation, and there are opportunities for development in virtual reality.
The university can share their experiences for implementing immersive and emerging technology across campus. They can revel in the fact they are preparing their students for the future since they aren’t limiting the showcase to any one major. Everyone is encouraged to come to the showcase and partner with other majors to create, build, and explore.
I’m proud to see that my Alma Mater continues to focus on bringing technology and real world problem solving to its students. Bridwell, Kunnen, and I agree, the technology changes, the tools change, but the ability to analyze and solve problems never goes obsolete.
Learn more about the Grand Valley’s Technology Showcase.
What do you think about VR, AR and other emerging technologies added to university curriculum? Have you used virtual reality in your classroom? Let me know in the comments below!