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XR@ASU creates new immersive learning experiences

October 12, 2020

You may have heard about different kinds of alternative realities, whether virtual (VR), augmented (AR) or mixed (MR). They all blend physical and digital worlds in unique ways, and together form the concept of extended reality (XR).

As a leader in exploring the potential for technology-enabled learning, Arizona State University is at the forefront of what President Michael Crow calls “the fourth realm of teaching and learning,” which focuses on “education through exploration.” So it is no surprise that ASU is at the forefront of understanding the novel and deeper learning opportunities afforded by these kinds of immersive activities and experiences. 

XR@ASU came together through the Immersive Learning through Extended Reality work stream from the Learning Futures Collaboratory, which also included the Embodied Games Lab at ASU, the Meteor Studio at ASU and individuals from EdPlus and UTO. With six immersive experiences already on display, and more on the way, XR@ASU has already begun shaping a new way of learning.

Real-world learning experiences

One of those experiences, developed by the Embodied Games Lab, is a COVID Campus Simulation that highlights eight key decisions to illustrate the probability of infection from the novel coronavirus. This informative experience shows how an ASU community member’s decisions, including distancing, masking and transportation choices, can keep others safe.

“Players should leave the game understanding not only how their decisions affect their own health, but also how individual decisions affect group health,” said Mina C. Johnson-Glenberg, Embodied Games Lab head.

Embodied Games also developed a bite-size, engaging game to illustrate the concept of natural selection. Catch a Mimic, designed for fifth graders through college-level students, demonstrates the biological concept of Batesian mimicry, the ability of an animal to present itself as toxic to avoid predators, through an interactive simulation.

Student-designed XR

Robert LiKamWa, assistant professor at the School of Arts, Media and Engineering and the School of Electrical, Computer and Energy Engineering, leads the Meteor Studio in designing and researching XR.

“We put together teams of students to collaborate on different XR projects at the intersection of technical and creative development,” LiKamWa said. “I'm also helping to give high-level direction to the projects, but the students are really taking charge with leading the projects where they need to go.”

Students led other ASU-centric learning experiences. For example, Career Arcade (currently in its beta form) will take users into the jobs their fields of study could lead to. With environments for planetary scientists, public health scientists, structural engineers and more to come, the Career Arcade will enrich and aid in the process of setting into the professional world.

A look inside the Career Arcade, currently in its beta form

“We've also decided to focus on how Arizona State University contributes to these fields,” said Brayden Jenkins, the student project director of Career Arcade. “For example, in the Planetary Science room, you can play with meteorites from ASU's meteorite vault or view satellites built with the help of ASU at one-to-one scale.”

The genesis of the project was to add another layer to the learning experience that continues even past ASU.

“Our hope is that anyone can enter the Career Arcade and leave inspired and excited for the future of these careers,” Jenkins said.

Also coming soon is the ASU Virtual Tutoring Simulation, led by Aashiq Shaikh. The mock tutoring experience provides an in-depth look at the process of virtual tutoring, bringing to its users information about the process and best practices for preparing for a tutoring session. In collaborating with the ASU Tutoring Center to ensure that his simulation is an accurate portrayal of its services, Shaikh found new light for those in need of tutoring.

“It is especially important now, as more and more students need online tutoring from home to succeed in their classes, but aren't sure what to expect,” he said.

ASU students Linda Nguyen and Brandon Thomas handled the front-end and back-end development of the ASU Scavenger Hunt, respectively. The project guides users to landmarks around ASU’s Tempe campus for a fully virtual experience or to visit in the real world (socially distanced and masked up, of course).

“We envision this app being utilized across ASU 101 courses as an engaging, gamified way for new students to familiarize themselves with ASU,” Nguyen said.

The app is available now, but Nguyen and her team are already thinking of ways to improve it (such as adding ASU’s other campuses) and reflecting on the whole process.

“The overall development process was a fun, collaborative and valuable experience that gave us more in-depth knowledge and practice in numerous areas of mobile app development, including databases, security, user interface design and cross-platform compatibility,” she said.

A companion to the Scavenger Hunt displays ASU at a different scale. The ASU 360 Virtual Campus immerses users in a number of 360-degree “portals” across ASU’s four Valley campuses. Designed as a tool to archive university events and provide virtual tours in the time of COVID-19, the 360 Virtual Campus is also seen, by lead developer Alireza Bahremand and his team, as a constant resource in the future.

“We envision that in the years to come, ASU will become a hybridized campus that merges the virtual and physical world,” Bahremand said. “This platform is one of the first steps towards building a hybridized experience that connects in-person and online students to explore the university.”

tettlema@asu.edu