Workshop introduces world of virtual reality

University students can now get their hands on emerging technology — such as virtual reality — on campus, for free.

The Center for Innovation in Teaching & Learning Innovation Spaces is holding a series of workshops to introduce different types of up-and-coming technologies to students. One of these workshops aims to teach the basics of VR to beginners.

The workshop will take place on Tuesday at the TechHub located in Armory Room 151A from 10-11 a.m. Main speakers at the conference will be senior e-learning professional Jamie Nelson and technology curator Lisette Chapa. Students have to register for the workshop.

“CITL Innovation Spaces are made up of three spaces: the Virtual Reality Lab, TechHub and the Innovation Studio. Each of these rooms serves a different purpose, but all are spaces where you can integrate innovative technology in a hands-on manner for learning or having fun,” Chapa said.

Nelson hopes to introduce VR technology and its various aspects to students. Workshop participants will get a chance to experience VR with HTC Vive, Oculus Go and smartphones. They will also learn how VR is different from augmented reality.

“The purpose of this workshop is to expose visitors to the basics of virtual reality and how to dive into it in different ways,” Chapa said. “This relates to our series in the sense that it is a beginner targeted, and it is meant to show you how to get into this technology on different levels.”

In today’s tech-oriented world, virtual reality presents seemingly boundless opportunities.

“An interesting aspect of VR is how immersive it can be. Whether you are viewing a 360-degree documentary or playing a game, VR allows for a personal experience,” Chapa said.

Even though the TechHub has been open since Fall 2017, it has not been receiving much attention despite the amount of tech-savvy students on campus and the technology available at the University.

“Sometimes students, or people in general, choose to not come (to the CITL Innovation Spaces), because they feel that the technology is very unfamiliar. Our goal is to change that,” Nelson said.

Jim Wentworth, e-learning professional in charge of the Virtual Reality Lab located near the TechHub at 173 Armory Building, said in a large group students might not volunteer to participate because they might feel embarrassed to make use of unfamiliar technology in front of peers.

Usually the hours during which students can visit the Virtual Reality Lab are limited due to the student-run projects being conducted there. However, students can earn a visit through demonstrated interest.

Wentworth and Nelson believe VR holds tremendous potential for educational purposes in many fields. Chapa said although VR is commonly used for gaming, it can also provide immersive training, especially for dangerous jobs.

“The big tech companies are the ones who can start a revolutionary change in terms of how technology is utilized in education, in the near future,” Wentworth said.

Beyond the workshop, students can easily get involved with VR and any other technology available on campus in other ways.

“If students just want a taste of VR, they are welcomed to come to the TechHub and try our educational or gaming content on our VR systems,” Chapa said. “If they have interests with other tech, we aim to point them in the right direction. Grainger Library might also have VR headsets for on-site loaning.”  

Nelson, Chapa and Wentworth encourage students to stop by the TechHub during open hours on Tuesdays and Wednesdays from 10 a.m.-4 p.m.

“Students can come to just hang out with their friends and play Fortnite, if they would like,” Nelson said.

Students will get to learn about and experience the different technologies available at the TechHub, which include VR gaming with PlayStation VR, 3D printing with Structure, augmented reality with HP Reveal and much more.

Certain current classes offered in disciplines like computer science and archaeology at the University also use virtual reality. CS 498: Virtual Reality is one example.

Interested students can also earn a certificate in technology-enhanced teaching offered by the University. The workshop counts toward completion of the certificate.

According to Nelson, CITL is working on new methods to get more students involved and making innovative technology more accessible on campus.

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