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Maria College Embraces XR With New Center for Academic Innovation

A private Catholic college in Albany opened a new facility that houses cutting-edge XR equipment including 20 computer stations, more than 30 headsets loaded with VR applications, mobile VR labs and drone technology.

(TNS) — Maria College recently opened its brand new Center for Academic Innovation (CAI).

The facility includes more than 1,000 square feet of "extended reality," or XR, a system that includes virtual reality (VR), augmented reality, and mixed reality. The XR technology will be used to train students in nursing, anatomy and physiology, and human biology. The CAI is the only facility of its kind dedicated to nursing nationwide.

"We are thrilled to showcase the academic innovations happening at the College to support student learning. We are grateful for all the partners and supporters who helped bring the Center for Academic Innovation to fruition, especially Congressman Paul Tonko. He shared our vision and worked tirelessly to secure the funding to support the continued excellence of our nursing program for the good of the Capital Region," Maria College President Lynn Ortale said in a news release.

Tonko was instrumental in obtaining $770,088 in federal funding as part of the 2023 Congressional appropriations package to purchase XR software, hardware, monitors, and other equipment to establish the CAI at Maria College.

"I'm always seeking to increase the health and well-being of our communities here in New York State, so when the opportunity arose to support Maria College's innovative project through Community Project Funding in the 2023 federal budget, I leapt to action and pushed for months to secure funding. Opening this facility and offering critical training opportunities for nursing students directly responds to the need to alleviate the national shortage of nurses. This center will serve as a model for leveraging innovation to advance healthcare education, and I applaud Maria College for empowering its students to best serve our region as the health physicians of our future," Tonko said in the release.

A variety of cutting-edge XR equipment is now housed at CAI, including 20 computer stations outfitted with a Ryzen 9 Pro 5945 CPU & Nvidia RTX 3060 GPU, more than 30 virtual reality (VR) headsets that are loaded with VR applications for nursing, anatomy & physiology, and related subjects including Meta Quest 2, Meta Quest 3, Meta Quest Pro, HP Reverb G2, and Pico 4, mobile VR labs for demonstration and instruction, photogrammetry, 3D printing, and drone technology accessible by students, and innovative applications of generative-AI, including digital tutors powered by ChatGPT.

In the context of nursing, VR simulations allow students to gain experiences in a three-dimensional environment where they can interact with a healthcare team, perform virtual clinical interventions, and receive feedback. This training expands both the number and types of clinical situations available for experience, increasing readiness for both clinical placement and working in the real world. Although more nurses are needed nationwide, with an increase in the number of trainees the number of clinical placement rotations has decreased. Simulations are now a critical component of nursing training for practicing essential skills and increasing nurse confidence.

"The new technology that we now have available to deliver our nursing curriculum is a great example of the positive role XR can play in healthcare and, more broadly, in higher education. I'm thrilled to be able to bring these tools to our students — and hope to also bring them into other academic communities through our mobile VR labs," said CAI director Jason Coley in the news release.

CAI is currently equipped to use XR equipment and applications with its nursing curriculum but will expand to support additional Maria College programs such as occupational therapy. Planning is also underway to capitalize on CAI's mobile VR lab capabilities to offer educational outreach to schools and other organizations.

"With N-CLEX pass rates above the national average, Maria College nurses are already among the best trained in the country," Dr. Colleen Carmody, Dean of the Andrea Lewis Siek School of Nursing, said in the release. "I'm thrilled to be able to offer these technologies to our students. Experience is the best training of all, and the Center offers the opportunity to have virtual experiences of all kinds. We want our nurses to have knowledge and feel confident — and the Center offers a chance for both."

"It's exciting to witness the new opportunities for both teaching and learning provided by our Center for Academic Innovation. Maria College is the only institution nationwide offering this kind of technology dedicated to nursing, and we intend to remain leaders in this arena," Anne Jung, Vice President for Academic Affairs, said in the release.

The Center for Academic Innovation is housed in the McAuley Building at Maria College, also home to the Andrea Lewis Siek School of Nursing.

©2024 The Saratogian, Saratoga Springs, N.Y. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.