St. Ambrose University delves into augmented reality

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Students at St. Ambrose University in Davenport use augmented reality glasses in class.

For The Catholic Messenger

DAVENPORT – A virtual and augmented reality partnership between VictoryXR and St. Ambrose University transports students into a new setting. Recently an environmental ethics class “stood in the middle of a thundering herd of migrating bison,” thanks to the augmented reality (AR), a news release states. AR uses real-world settings while virtual reality (VR) uses virtual settings.

During that recent AR environmental ethics experience, students “roamed the prairies, encountered populations of wolves, elk, deer, and birds and aided a fire ecologist with a prescribed prairie burn.” SAU President Amy C. Novak launched the partnership with VictoryXR as part of the university’s strategic initiatives to help emphasize the new generation of learners and better strengthen student engagement.

St. Ambrose “will be the first school globally to test the launching of a full augmented reality campus within the physical campus,” said Novak. “It became clear after conversations with VictoryXR CEO Steven Grubbs that St. Ambrose would be an ideal test site for learning through both virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR). We are all equally invested in understanding what it would look like if higher education began to develop an infrastructure to support these new ways of learning.”

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Grubbs said VictoryXR worked with T-Mobile and Qualcomm to build the AR on the St. Ambrose campus. Students use glasses from Lenovo “to see a world of learning that is otherwise invisible.” St. Ambrose faculty in the departments of history, theology, philosophy, business, engineering, biology and nursing are exploring these technologies. The Engineering department has already adopted a virtual welding lab to strengthen competencies, Novak noted.

Theology professor Father Bud Grant transported his environmental ethics students into what he described as an engaging educational lesson. “I created the virtual prairie where students could move with a migrating herd of bison,” he said. “The students quickly picked up on it, learning to move and ‘teleport’ within minutes, and some even began drawing their own 3D images. On day two of the virtual lesson, I added a direwolf who stood beside me to ensure good behavior. After the giggles subsided, we were able to go on a virtual field trip to the Loess Hills, where students flew over the terrain and studied the topology and invasive woodland species.”

As this new technology is still evolving, the university discovered the need to expand its bandwidth. “While this will not substitute live classroom instruction, we are asking the fundamental questions of how students will learn differently in the future and how we best equip them for that learning. The way I describe it to faculty is that it is another tool in the toolbox of high-impact learning and teaching practices,” said Novak.


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