Learn in 3D: Extended Reality Lab for New Students

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Extended reality technology, the catch-all phrase used to describe augmented and virtual reality, is breaking through barriers both at Lehigh and abroad.

Steve Sakasitz, instructional designer for the Center for Innovation in Teaching and Learning, said the student development lab will be located in the basement of the Fairchild-Martindale Library Computer Center.

The lab is for students interested in extended reality.

“Whether it’s building 3D worlds, doing 3D modeling, or doing 360 video, if students are interested in that kind of thing, or even just making 2D games, it would be the place to do it,” Sakasitz said.

The Student Development Lab will join the Visualization Lab, or XR Learning Lab, which is currently located at CITL and began as the Data Visualization Lab. Along the walls of the pre-existing laboratory is a MultiTaction Curved iWall, intended to digitally display data. VR headsets are scattered on tables throughout the space.

Sakasitz said the initial focus of the lab was the visualization of large and expansive data. Now it is mainly used by Lehigh faculty for higher education XR exploration.

“We look at academic apps or apps that lean toward building empathy, diversity, or cultural elements,” Sakasitz said.

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

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

“Interracial interactions are tough,” Taylor said. “They are difficult. They often go wrong, but if you have them they are supposed to lead to better results because now you have experience interacting with people across different lines of difference.

When studying these processes in survey or laboratory research, she said it was difficult to know whether subjects were behaving authentically or trying to meet perceived expectations. teachers.

She said the use of extended reality techniques makes it possible to see how people engage in different interactions in a virtual space. If done right, it allows researchers to see people’s natural responses in a way that isn’t always available in the real world or in surveys.

She explained that when subjects put on a VR headset, the simulated world becomes their actual reality.

“Your brain actually understands the simulated world, for a while, like the world you’re in,” Taylor said. “It feels very, very real. We know this because if things happen, you may be surprised. Your heart rate may increase. You may start sweating if it scares you.

Khanjan Mehta, vice-rector for creative research and director of the Mountaintop Initiative, directs the Global Social Impact Fellowship program.

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

Mehta describes this period as frustrating as program projects were stalled and learning goals were not met.

He said he wondered how the program could help students develop “cognitive flexibility” so they could have context for their research and design.

Without immersion in the environments they studied, Mehta said students struggled to ask the right questions.

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

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

“If you’re working on a diagnostic device that’s going to be used in (a health facility), you need to know where it’s going to be used, what it looks like, and what kind of training do local nurses and health workers have. “, said Mehta.

He said watching the videos helps students feel more comfortable before they arrive in Sierra Leone.

“It’s not very often that many of our students find out what it’s like to be in the minority somewhere in terms of skin color, what you’re wearing, or a lot of different factors,” said Mehta. .

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

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

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