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Can Augmented/Virtual Reality Be a High-Impact Practice? CHIP Thinks So and Is Training Faculty to Use It

By David Simpson

Strapping on a headset and interacting with 3D simulations of burly Vikings or distant planets is flat-out cool, no question. But it can also be something more enriching.

Since virtual-reality (VR) technology arrived in the hands of video gamers three decades ago, its use has expanded into many fields, including higher education.

Now, Old Dominion University's Center for High Impact Practices (CHIP) hopes to spread it - and its cousin, augmented reality (AR) - across the disciplines as a teaching strategy.

Seeing an opportunity to boost experiential learning, CHIP is launching an initiative called HIP-XR. The name ties the umbrella term XR (for "extended reality," which encompasses VR and AR) to high-impact practices (HIP) in teaching.

As part of that effort, CHIP will hold a three-day workshop for faculty members on Oct. 16, 23 and 30 from 10 a.m. to noon. "Introduction to HIP-XR" will get them started designing VR or AR assignments that they can easily integrate into a course.

Extended reality offers students a visceral experience that can help them connect emotionally with course material, said Megan Mize, associate director of ePortfolios and digital initiatives at CHIP.

"It deepens learning," she said, "and it can actually speed the learning process up."

Not only that, she said, but the technology can help close the equity gap by taking students, virtually, to places they physically can't go or places they can't afford to visit.

CHIP is partnering with the Center for Faculty Development (CFD) to offer the workshop. Tomeka Wilcher, educational program developer for CFD, said she's excited about the program.

"I'm looking forward to working together to provide faculty with a new HIP that will help transform their learning space," she said.

Transform, indeed. In a 2018 Educause report, Jeffrey Pomerantz wrote: "3D technologies give users virtual superpowers." Simulated worlds can enable students to fly, walk through walls, use X-ray vision, manipulate microscopic objects, and much more.

The October workshop will introduce faculty to the use of commercially available, low-cost XR as a potential high-impact practice. The training will include such activities as:

  • Defining extended reality
  • Playing with examples of augmented reality and virtual reality
  • Exploring available XR options
  • Designing low-stakes XR assignments with experiential learning and high-impact elements in mind
  • Adding XR to a spring class

Guest speakers will include Amanda Licastro, an assistant professor of English at Stevenson University and an emerging expert in digital pedagogy (Oct. 16); Helen Crompton, an associate professor in ODU's Department of Teaching and Learning and an authority on educational technology (Oct. 23); and Remica Bingham-Risher, the director of ODU's Quality Enhancement Plan (Oct. 30).

The workshop is aimed at getting faculty started with the technology and tools. All the apps used in the workshop are free. Google Cardboard fold-out viewers will be given to all enrollees; users just insert their smartphone for an entry-level VR experience. Enrollees will get a $350 stipend.

Lisa Mayes, CHIP's executive director, says she believes XR has great potential to engage the learner. She and her team have been investigating the technology as a high-impact practice since last year.

"We see the value in promoting this innovative approach to learning both in and outside the classroom," she said. "It can enable experiences to happen that would be otherwise impossible for many of our students."

Enrollment for this workshop is now closed, but if you have questions about future XR workshops, please contact Megan Mize at mmize@odu.edu.

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