This past semester, we've gotten to go into a different realm of educational technology: augmented and virtual reality course development. Throughout the course of the past year, we've been busy developing an experiential learning, or Praxis, course centered on developing museum applications for virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) platforms. The course also provided us with the opportunity to teach, learn and create with a larger number of students than we have ever done before.
As per Bryn Mawr's Praxis program, students had a weekly classroom component where they met as a cohort with Jenny Spohrer, the Director of Educational Technology Services and the faculty member for the course. In their class time, they discussed the literature about the changing field of augmented and virtual reality, the meaning of augmented and virtual, the technologies' implications for universal design, and much more.
In turn, the literature also informed the fieldwork component of the course. As part of their fieldwork, students were tasked to work in small groups to conceptualize, design and create a VR/AR app or detailed app plan for the Microsoft HoloLens, the Google Cardboard or Apple's ARKit. A secondary goal was to ensure that students received exposure to Bryn Mawr College's Digital Competencies Program so they could work on reflecting, building and articulating the skills they picked up over the course.
With six students in disciplines ranging from Political Science to Computer Science, it became clear that our students would have a range of ideas. An unexpected effect, however, was the role that project management and design thinking workshops played in bringing students and project ideas together.
By mid-semester, our students had honed in on the following app ideas:
- Blockroom - A Philadelphia area landmark scavenger hunt for the Google Cardboard
- Twittervision - A Tweet visualization app for the Microsoft HoloLens
- Databition - A data visualization app (inspired by the "100 People: A World Portrait" project) for the Microsoft HoloLens
These ideas came through because of common interests, available technologies (the HoloLens only works on Windows machines), as well as our students' strong desires to learn how to use Unity to code for the Google Cardboard and the Microsoft HoloLens.
While they had limited knowledge of Unity going into the semester, in a matter of 14 weeks, our students will have created working models of their apps to present and show to fellow students, faculty and staff.
On our end, not only have we gotten the opportunity to work with a diverse group of talented students, but we have also gotten to share our work on developing student-facing opportunities with colleagues at Bryn Mawr, in museums and in similar institutions across the nation, as well as around the Philadelphia area. Specifically, throughout the course of the semester, our students:
- Developed three apps for the Microsoft HoloLens or Google Cardboard
- Visited the Franklin Institute and met with Chief Digital Officer Susan Poulton and Director of Digital Editorial Joy Montefusco to learn more about how the Franklin Institute is innovating using AR/VR technologies to engage with its visitors
- Met with Liz Newbury '07, Director of the Wilson Center's Serious Games Initiative, to learn about the implications of gamification for education and privacy
- Watched Ready Player One to get a glimpse of what the future of these technologies might look like
- Submitted their new media projects to the 2018 Tri-College Film Festival
- Created digital posters to showcase their creative processes, and project management and design thinking skills
As we wrap up the semester, we are excited to see the final versions of these projects and engage in more conversations about the importance of being able to incorporate creative projects like app development into traditional course structures. At conferences, we have seen other institutions look outside their student populations for developers to develop for their students. Our students are the producers, consumers and critical thinkers in and for these technologies and, in a few years, they will be defining and changing the AR/VR field. What could be more significant than that? Who knows, but we cannot wait to see what they do next.
Interested in hearing more about the Praxis course and the experience of creating apps for augmented and virtual reality? Our students will be presenting their work at the Praxis Poster Presentation event on May 7 from 3-5PM in the Great Hall.