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OIT and Biggio fund VR learning for 2022

<p>Student interacts with virtual reality headset at the Biggio Center.</p>

Student interacts with virtual reality headset at the Biggio Center.

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,” said John Helms, the director of Telecom, Network and AV in the Office of Information Technology. 

Inspired by remote instruction, the team crafted an opportunity for faculty technology proposals to receive funding. The desire of the collaborative effort was to create deeper engagement and enhance 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 conversations between OIT and the Biggio Center, the groups invited SGA representatives, faculty and IT staff from various colleges to collaborate on the process. 

“The Biggio Center is committed to helping faculty implement innovative approaches to teaching,” said Asim Ali, the executive director of 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.”

Meetings between the various entities began in March 2021 and ensued through the end of the summer. In May, proposals were solicited from Auburn University faculty. 

Following two rounds of proposals and review, OIT and the Biggio Center awarded six faculty projects at a cost of $191,700. 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.”

The projects are targeted to be implemented into Auburn University learning programs in the Spring and Summer of 2022. This fall, OIT and the Biggio Center will be focusing on providing for any developmental and equipping needs that accompany each project.

“Combining these resources with our faculty’s defined learning outcomes will prepare us for successful implementation of these innovative solutions,” said Alycia Baggett, IT project manager in 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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