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University of Maryland GC Planning AR/VR for Online Courses

The university is one of 10 that have partnered with VictoryXR to use virtual and augmented reality to create a “digital twin campus” and make online classes more immersive. The pilot program starts this fall.

Courtesy: UMGC website
The online University of Maryland Global Campus (UMGC) has partnered with the ed-tech company VictoryXR to adopt virtual- and augmented-reality technology to enhance instruction in courses in the fall, a recent announcement said.

According to a news release, the university will join nine other schools to create “digital twin campuses” for students in synchronous and asynchronous courses held online or in person. The effort was launched with the help of the tech giant Meta, which recently announced plans to provide AR/VR headsets, among other course development resources.

UMGC officials said their adoption of AR/VR technology will work toward the creation of a "metacampus," which could increase participation in virtual classes by giving students a digital space in which to work closely with instructors and each other, as they would do in person.

Other schools working with VictoryXR to create "metaversities" include Morehouse College, University of Kansas' School of Nursing, New Mexico State University, South Dakota State University, West Virginia University and Southwestern Oregon Community College, the announcement said.

According to UMGC Department of Information Technology Chair Daniel Mintz, the university has courses available now that teach students how to develop augmented and virtual reality content. While those courses have some familiarity with AR/VR tools, others will begin experimenting with them for the first time.

“This pilot program in the fall is a yearlong project, or 'test,' to explore how we want to use it [elsewhere],” he told Government Technology. “Until we start the pilot in the fall, the development courses are the only ones who have immersive content in them.”

Mintz said one of the key goals will be to give online students learning experiences that are as “hands-on” as possible, noting that asynchronous online learning tends to be less robust in comparison to active engagement with an instructor.

“The majority of our classes are online, and we don’t have a campus or in-person classes domestically,” he said of UMGC. “We want to use this immersive technology not just in terms of content, but to change the relationship between the faculty member and online student.”

“We want to be able to offer students the option to be purely online, and if they want to have some synchronous contact with faculty using this immersive technology, they can do that," he continued. “We want to give them options.”

Mintz said most asynchronous content offered for remote students across the higher-ed landscape, such as recorded lectures, tends to make learning much more “static” in comparison to in-person learning. Noting possible uses, he said, the university plans to use the tech next fall or spring for activities where active student engagement would be most needed — such as a dissection lesson in a biology course, among others.

“There’s content that can be taught better in an immersive environment,” he said. “For [another] one of the pilots, we have courses in criminal justice, and we want to create an immersive environment where, instead of just reading about a scene, they’ll actually be in a scene to look at the evidence … It’s much more powerful to be there and do that than it is to just read about it.”

According to the news release, VictoryXR expects to announce additional "metaversity" partnerships in May, as schools look to embrace new ed-tech tools to increase student participation.

“This is an opportunity to be a leader and early pioneer in leveraging the metaverse, which will represent a radical paradigm shift in online education and the end-to-end learner experience,” said Doug Harrison, vice president and dean of the School of Cybersecurity and Information Technology at UMGC. “Our partnership with VictoryXR represents another step toward creating broader access to higher education and strengthening the connection between students, faculty and other stakeholders, including success coaches, advisers, student services representatives and other external academic and business partners.”
Brandon Paykamian is a staff writer for Government Technology. He has a bachelor's degree in journalism from East Tennessee State University and years of experience as a multimedia reporter, mainly focusing on public education and higher ed.