Michael L. Mathews has served for three years as CIO at Oral Roberts University. A year ago he took on an added role as an associate vice president — and he has been innovating. In January 2017, the school opened its Global Learning Center that includes eight classrooms, a recording studio, a 700-seat performance hall and a state-of-the-art virtual reality space.
The immersive qualities of virtual reality open new opportunities for schools looking to expand their footprint. “Most places will open a campus in Saudi Arabia or Shanghai. We decided to flip the whole university, so anyone around the world can have access to education, certifications and knowledge from this one center,” Mathews said.
Virtual and augmented reality offer more than just a new means to access information. In their essence, these technologies have the potential to re-create the higher ed experience from its very foundations, he said.
“Only 6 percent of the people in the world who could have a post-secondary degree actually have one. In America, it’s 34 percent. The reason it is 6 percent is because we only package education in four-year bundles of time and money,” he said.
New technologies could explode that paradigm. “Augmented reality lets us deliver that knowledge without people having to sign up for a four-year degree. Over time those people start to believe that they are good enough and smart enough to come. It’s a way in for people who are interested but unsure, and it’s a way in for people who can’t get a visa,” he said.
Partners in the new center include EON Reality, Carousel Industries and TalentQuest. All have helped the school to translate conventional content into immersive experiences with measurable outcomes. “An engineering concept that used to take weeks can be explained in an hour,” said Mathews. “Another professor has seen student testing points go up 5 percentage points in just one semester, and we think it will be as high as 30 percent.” — Adam Stone