OIT and Biggio fund VR learning for 2022

When the pandemic hit, and classes were moved online, Auburn’s Office of Information Technology and the Biggio Center sought to use the moment to invest in learning advancements. 

“The idea for more interactive learning has been kicked around in the past, but this year’s project really got started last fall in conversations between AU’s CIO Jim O’Connor and some of the deans,” John Helms, director of Telecom, Network and AV at the Office of Information Technology, said this. 

The team was inspired by remote instruction and created an opportunity for faculty to submit technology proposals for funding. The goal of the collaborative effort was deep engagement and to improve the quality of learning.

“The need for more innovative teaching and learning was made apparent by the pandemic and remote instruction that took place last year,” Helms said. “More immersive student learning using virtual reality and other technologies will allow remote learners and non-remote learners alike to experience the same high-quality education they expect from Auburn University.”

After initial discussions between OIT and Biggio Center, the groups invited SGA representatives, faculty, and IT staff from different colleges to collaborate on this process. 

“The Biggio Center is committed to helping faculty implement innovative approaches to teaching,” Asim Ali is the executive director at the Biggio Center. “Using augmented and virtual reality not only identifies ways to experiment with improving learning outcomes, but it also exposes Auburn students to new technology they may experience when they enter the workforce.”

The meetings between the various entities began in March 2021, and continued until the end of the summer. Auburn University faculty were asked to submit proposals in May. 

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OIT and Biggio Center funded six faculty projects at $191,000.700 after two rounds of proposal and review. Funds for the awards were provided by OIT, fully backed by the University’s CFO and Provost. The awardees are as follows:

J Rachel Prado, Allie Brandriet and Vanessa Falcao, Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry — Naming R or S Stereoisomers with Virtual Reality Training 
Kimberly B Garza, Department of Health Outcomes Research and Policy — Combining Haptics with VR to Support Professional Identity Development in Student Pharmacists through Empathy for Patients
Mark Traynor, Department of Nutrition, Dietetics and Hospitality Management — Food Safety Immersive Virtual Experience
Michael P Howard, Department of Chemical Engineering — Nano to Macro: Virtual-reality Enhanced Learning in the Chemical Sciences and Engineering
Rick Williams, Department of Mechanical Engineering — Using Virtual Reality Immersion to Improve Student Learning in Engineering
Tiffani Chidume, School of Nursing — Making Virtual Reality a Reality for Auburn University School of Nursing and Collaboratives

Helms said faculty projects will be aiming to provide students with immersive, web-based Virtual Reality experiences, augmented by utilizing VR headsets. 

“Virtual reality allows the student to experience something virtually without actually being there,” Helms said. “For example, one project will allow students to virtually go inside a nuclear reactor to observe and manipulate things that would otherwise be impossible for students to do in real life.”

These projects will be implemented in Auburn University’s learning programs in the Spring/Summer 2022. OIT and Biggio Center will focus this fall on assisting with any equipping and developmental needs associated with each project.

“Combining these resources with our faculty’s defined learning outcomes will prepare us for successful implementation of these innovative solutions,” Alycia Baggett is the IT project manager at the Office of Information Technology. “There is also an impressive amount of collaboration in these projects that heavily taps into some of Auburn’s current resources, including AU Online and the Innovation & Research Commons.” 

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Emery Lay | Campus Editor

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