3D Learning: An extended virtual lab for a new student

Extended reality technology, the umbrella phrase used to describe augmented and virtual reality, is bridging barriers, both in Lehigh and abroad.

The Student Development Lab will be located in the basement of the Fairchild Martindale Library Computing Center, said Steve Sakasitz, instructional designer for the Center for Innovation in Teaching and Learning.

The lab is for students interested in extended reality.

“Whether it’s building 3D worlds or making 3D models or making 360-degree video, if students have any interest in this kind of thing, or even just building 2D games, this would be the place to do it,” said Sakasitz. .

The Student Development Lab will join the Visualization Lab, or XR Learning Lab, which is currently at CITL and started as a Data Visualization Lab. Along the pre-existing laboratory walls there are a MultiTaction Curved iWall, designed to display data digitally. VR headsets are scattered on tables all over the place.

Sakasitz said the lab’s original purpose was to visualize large, comprehensive data. Now, it is mainly used by Lehigh faculty to explore XR for higher education.

“We are looking at academic applications or applications that lean toward building empathy, diversity or cultural things,” Sakasitz said.

Psychology professor Valerie Taylor uses virtual reality in her research on interracial interactions.

She said the research shows that people are challenged through interracial interactions, but that the more challenged people have, the more positive the results can be.

“Interracial interactions are difficult,” Taylor said. “It is tough. It often goes badly, but if you have it, it should lead to better results because you now have experience interacting with people across different lines of difference.”

When studying these processes in survey research or in the lab, she said, it’s hard to tell if people are behaving authentically or if they’re trying to meet the professor’s perceived expectations.

She said the use of extended reality technologies provides a way to learn how people engage in different interactions in a virtual space. If done well, it allows researchers to see people’s natural responses in a way that is not always available in the real world or in surveys.

She explained that when people wear a VR headset, the simulated world becomes their actual reality.

“Your brain really perceives the simulated world of the moment, as it is the world you live in,” Taylor said. “It feels very real. We know this because if things happen, you can be stunned. It can increase your heart rate. You can start to sweat if it’s scary.”

Khanjan Mehta, Vice Dean of Creative Investigation and Director of the Mountaintop Initiative, leads the Global Social Impact Fellowship Program.

The program addresses sustainable development problems in the Philippines, Kazakhstan and Sierra Leone. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, students were unable to travel to these countries in January To conduct field work, which is a typical component of the program.

Mehta describes this time as frustrating because the program’s projects were stuck and the learning objectives not being met.

He said he asked himself how the program could help students develop “cognitive flexibility” so that they could get context for their research and design.

Without immersion in the environments they were studying, Mehta said, students would struggle to ask the right questions.

“To solve the important questions, you have to ask important questions,” Mehta said.

This led Mehta to get 360 degree videos. While in Sierra Leone, he used a 360-degree camera to photograph the hotel where the students would be staying, the streets of Sierra Leone and the healthcare facility there.

“If you are working on a diagnostic device that will be used in a[healthcare facility]you need to know where it is being used, what it is like and what kind of education the local nurses and healthcare workers receive,” Mehta said.

He said watching the videos helped the students feel more comfortable before they arrived in Sierra Leone.

“It’s not often that many of our students experience what it means to be in a minority somewhere in terms of the color of your skin or what you wear or because of so many different factors,” Mehta said. .

At the XR Community of Practice meeting, Jeffrey Heflin, associate professor of computer science and engineering, said he loves how XR can make things easier.

“I like the idea that you can do things that might be expensive in a real-world classroom,” Heflin said.

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