Imagine putting on a headset and touching down on another world. A world where you can learn and grow by fully immersing yourself in whatever topic you want.
That dream – to create diverse learning spaces using the latest technologies – inspired the University of Arizona’s Office of Digital Learning, where every UA Online course is built from scratch. That’s why it decided to host both the UA Tech Crawl, held the evening of Thursday, Sept. 28, and OLC Collaborate, a daylong event sponsored by the Online Learning Consortium, on Friday, Sept. 29. What attendees experienced was just a small taste of an exciting future for online education: one that puts students first.
“I always talk about the fact that we need to be where our students are,” said keynote speaker Michael Torrence, assistant vice president of Academic Affairs for Volunteer State Community College in Gallatin, Tennessee. “And if we’re not where our students are, we’re doing them a disservice.”
Torrence’s presentation, titled “The 4th Dimension in Higher Education: Mixed Reality of VR, AR and Holograms,” outlined precisely where those students are and how to reach them.
“It’s transformational what happens when you put these devices into the hands of a young person,” he said. “When you get immersed in the environment … you become more connected to the contextual. That’s the beauty of VR.”
Building New Realities
Torrence suggested we’ve moved beyond the term “digital natives,” which refers to individuals born and raised during the age of digital technology and the internet. Instead, he called modern students “digitally immersed natives” and said educators can meet their needs by bringing virtual and augmented reality technologies into the classroom whenever possible.
The previous day’s tech crawl highlighted the UA’s dedication to integrating new technologies into its online courses by hosting 18 high-tech stations all around the main campus in Tucson, Arizona. These stations, set up by the Office of Digital Learning, University Libraries and other UA groups, featured hands-on demonstrations of educational technologies, including 3-D scanners, printers and more.