Otterbein Virtual Reality PLC Presents New Ways of Looking at Old Things

Posted Dec 07, 2020

By Duncan Squillante ’21 and Dan Steinberg

How would you like to tour the Colosseum in Rome without ever leaving the Otterbein campus? What would it be like to travel in space and see our planet from the space station while sitting in a classroom in the Communication building?

A learning community offered for students and professors alike by the Center for Teaching and Learning is doing just that in partnership with the The Point. Community members are investigating all facets of virtual reality, augmented reality and mixed reality while discovering classroom applications for these new technologies. While exploring the possibilities, the Immersive Technology Professional Learning Community (PLC) is also creating new connections to the Five Cards Experience, Otterbein’s experiential learning program.

“We are facilitating a group that is exploring technology,” says Colin Saunders, senior learning designer. “We’re exploring trends in higher education, and that’s where this started.”

Virtual reality is when you enter another world which convinces your senses you are there. Augmented reality blends visual reality with real life, where you can interact with virtual objects on a screen, generally overlaying information in a blended world. Mixed reality engages people in a new space, so you’re feeling as if you’re actually walking in say, the Peruvian mountains. Each one of these “realities” requires a special headset.

Community members come from all across the campus. Participants applied to be members in this learning community that was open to faculty, staff and students, according to the CTL’s Peggy McMains, program coordinator.

“I think the experience sells itself in terms of what it can do,” Saunders said. “We have a very diverse and interdisciplinary set of faculty members and students who are in our PLC from all different spaces. They’re not all computer science and engineering majors, members represent theater arts, psychology, librarians, biologists, and creative writing as well.”

Junior Jon Hinson, systems engineering major, wanted to experience more time with the new technology.

“Some people can learn easier using new technologies since they are visual learners,” Hinson said. “I wanted to experience technology such as augmented reality, literally adding digital images onto real-life objects.”

Jennifer Bennett, Department of Biology and Earth Science associate professor, knew immediately after trying virtual reality that she had to use it in her classes.

“Colin Saunders found a virtual reality program where the student could go inside a cell,” Bennett said. “I already used virtual reality in my cell biology course this semester. The students were able to ‘journey into the cell’ and handle the cell parts. It was a big hit with the class!

“Cell parts are a very abstract concept for students to learn, but this experience allowed them to be immersed inside the cell. Colin and I conducted a survey of the students’ attitudes towards VR and its impact on learning. We are writing up the results currently. The feedback was overwhelmingly positive.”

The Immersive Technologies PLC will hold a “pop-up,” an interactive educational session for everyone wanting to explore virtual and augmented realities. The session will be held from 11 a.m.-3 p.m. Thursday, April 19, at the Courtright Memorial Library’s first floor.

Popcorn for the pop-up will be served.

“That’s corny,” Hinson said.

Learn more about the Otterbein Center for Teaching & Learning