Those at the forefront of innovation in Higher Education are always on the lookout for ways to enrich the learning experience for students, and appeal to new generations of digital natives who are open to new things.
One technology that has recently caught the attention of universities is extended reality (XR). But what exactly is XR, and how is it different from augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR)?
XR is an umbrella term that encompasses both AR and VR, as well as any other technology that enhances or extends our perception of reality. AR is the technology that overlays digital information on the real world, such as Pokémon Go or Snapchat filters. VR, however, immerses the user in a completely digital environment, such as in a video game or virtual campus tour. XR combines elements of both AR and VR to make them greater than the sum of their parts.
Sounds amazing? Well yes, but a typical concern is the cost of creating and maintaining XR content, as it can be pretty expensive. Also, in a world where we are trying to close the gap between the haves and the have-nots, it is unavoidably true that not all students will be able to access technology through VR headsets, which could reinforce or even broaden the existing gap.
Add to this that more students and faculty become familiar with it, it's likely that we will see more and more universities adopt XR as a fundamental technology in their teaching, learning, marketing, recruitment, and research. A survey showed that 40% of universities had used XR for "a few" projects at least, but the wow factor comes from 90% of them saying they would significantly increase XR adoption in the next five years.
So, how are universities using XR to improve the Higher Education experience? Here are a few examples:
Some universities are using XR to create virtual labs for science and engineering students. This allows students to conduct experiments and interact with equipment in a way that would be impossible in a traditional classroom setting. For example, students at the University of California, Berkeley can use XR to conduct virtual dissections of frogs and fish, which is not only more cost-effective but also more humane. Frogs are big fans.
XR can also be used to create interactive and engaging learning experiences. For example, the University of Sussex has developed an XR app that allows students to explore the human body in 3D. This allows students to understand complex concepts in a way that is much more engaging than reading about them in a textbook.
Marketers need not worry- you won't be left out here. XR can also be used to market universities to potential students. For example, the University of Southern California has created an XR campus tour that allows prospective students to explore the campus and get a sense of what it would be like to attend the university. This is a much more engaging way to market the university than a traditional brochure or website, which is one dimensional only.
The University of Leeds has developed similar technology and research shows that the immersive experience and ability to personalize it will help an institution engage a much wider audience of international students, and increase conversions. Not everyone can actually visit the campus before commencing their studies, and let's not forget about the huge emissions from international student air travel.
Lastly, in research, XR can also be used to create simulations of complex systems. For example, researchers at the University of Oxford are using XR to create simulations of the human brain, which can help to understand how different parts of the brain work together, and help to communicate that to others.
These are just a few examples, but the possibilities for the future of education are only limited by our own imaginations. Time to get excited, and geNEOus (formerly NEO Academy) is definitely keen to hear more about your thoughts and experiences around this new technology, so do reach out!