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Penn State Prof Lands Grant To Explore Use of VR in Distance Ed

An assistant professor of engineering design and industrial engineering at Pennsylvania State University will use grant money to research the use of virtual reality in creating an immersive and interactive learning experience for engineering students in online courses.

Conrad Tucker, an affiliate professor of computer science and engineering, won the $38,745 grant from Penn State's Center for Online Innovation in Learning (COIL) for his proposal, “VR Penn State: Teaching Engineering Concepts in an Immerse Virtual Reality Environment.” The funding is intended to help the team develop pilot data useful in seeking greater funding from outside agencies in the fall.

"The outcomes of this research have the potential to provide a scalable learning environment to online learners that will transform virtual collaboration from passive experiences in which students simply consume content, to more interactive experiences in which students communicate by creating and augmenting content in a collaborative manner," said Tucker in a prepared statement.

Tucker and his team will seek to answer two questions, according to a Penn State news release: "Are there differences in learning outcomes between learners in traditional brick and mortar environments versus those in immersive VR environments when engaged in tangible interactions, such as prototype creation or similar hands-on projects? And are there differences in learning outcomes between students in brick and mortar environments versus those in immersive VR environments when engaged in intangible interactions, such as teamwork?"

The team will create a 3D scan of an engineering classroom, capturing everything from whiteboards and other furniture to models and computers, to use as a 3D mesh that will form the base of a virtual classroom. Once completed, students will be able to use natural hand gestures to interact with the room and its objects via Oculus Rift VR devices and a Leap Motion sensor.

"This will essentially allow students who are learning from a distance to have the feeling of being in the same classroom and workspace area as those who are physically in one of the engineering classrooms or labs on campus," said Tucker in a news release

"Through the use of an Oculus Rift headset retrofitted with a Leap Motion sensor, students will be able to use their hands to rotate, explore and dissect a virtual model the same way a traditional student would explore a physical object or prototype with his or her hands," Tucker added.

About the Author

Joshua Bolkan is contributing editor for Campus Technology, THE Journal and STEAM Universe. He can be reached at j[email protected].

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