Digital-learning team launches outreach efforts to energize students and faculty.
At noon on a recent Friday, 10 members of the University’s Board Games & Beyond student club bounded into a Scott Memorial Library classroom to take a break from academic rigors by donning Oculus headsets and having some fun with virtual-reality games.
The event marked a necessary step in getting word out to students and faculty members about the benefits – be they academic, clinical, and beyond – of the University’s ever-growing digital-learning efforts.
The XR (Extended Reality) initiative aims to improve learner outcomes, support existing teaching practices and set Jefferson up as an industry leader implementing XR into higher-education curriculum. Leaders in the space envision all educators and learners having access to the available XR technology including VR (Virtual Reality) headsets, Igloo immersive spaces, the MechDyne cave, Titan360 cameras and XR-specific software platforms.
The Scott Memorial Library event is one way in which the team hopes to encourage the adoption of new and ever-changing technology by highlighting the many benefits of XR technology, which include improved learner outcomes, lower long-term costs, research opportunities and fostering new grant opportunities.
The initiative could soon see educators and students reserving VR spaces, VR headsets and a variety of web-based and XR-specific software platforms for shared simulation, virtual/hybrid classrooms and collaboration.
A FUN DIVERSION
On hand at the student-club meeting were team members Jerry Fillman, Demi Barzana and Liz D’Angel. Fillman and Barzana, both instructional design specialists, brought the XR equipment and got the students (five at a time, for 20-minute game sessions each) situated into the headsets and hand controllers.
“See you all on the other side,” said Arthraj Vyas, a second-year Sidney Kimmel Medical College student, as he was the first to activate the Moon Rider game which would have him “surf(ing) the rhythm road among the stars, moon, and lights.”
Soon, students were off in virtual game worlds. To goggle-free observers, they looked like mimes climbing walls, eluding objects, swinging golf clubs, drumming and throwing punches at the air. Amongst the active players, conversations turned to whether anyone was feeling nauseous (they didn’t) and how fun the experience was.
“Trust me: Tetris totally rules!” said one of the participants to nobody in particular. “The things are coming at you so fast!”
As the second cohort of students fitted themselves with sanitized headsets and hand controllers, Vyas and fellow medical student Joseph Vachaparambil discussed both the enjoyability and utility of the VR experience.
“It was pretty fun,” Vyas said. “I could see this being very useful for digital meetings, presentations, those sorts of things.”
AN EARLY ADOPTER IN NURSING EDUCATION
The digital learning team – which consists of Drs. Matt Baker, Anthony Frisby and Peter Miller along with Jeff Cepull and Viraj Patwardhan – hopes these scenes will help the University community acclimate itself with the initiative that’s garnered substantial leadership buy-in.
Dr. Carol Okupniak – Director of the Center for Advanced Education, Simulation, and Innovation and College of Nursing faculty member – has been on the forefront of this effort since December 2020. Dr. Okupniak was already a personal user of virtual reality, using the headsets for games, meditation and to watch movies.
“I have the full support of administration to explore new uses of virtual reality in simulation, and the students overwhelmingly love it!” she says of how the College of Nursing enthusiastically jumped in.
Though the pandemic initially limited academic in-person use, Dr. Okupniak used a faculty completion grant to obtain UV sterilization cabinets, lens wipes and a GoProMax 360 camera, which sparked a process of filming their own simulation videos at Jefferson facilities. Those videos have been incorporated into simulations teaching how to respond to mass casualty incidents and a “crazy classroom” lesson in which students can look in 360 to find safety risks to patients and caregivers.
It’s all about immersion and presence. A student said it best: ‘I feel like a ghost.’ They can see everything, but nobody can see them.
–Dr. Carol Okupniak, Director of the Center for Advanced Education, Simulation, and Innovation
Then, she says, she received an “out-of-the-blue invitation for a visit to Manhattan” in December 2021. That gathering was to see a demonstration of the Igloo Vision shared virtual-reality cylinder and there – with members of leadership in attendance – she shared videos she’d previously filmed.
“That was my Oscar moment,” she says. “Everything opened up from there. They saw the potential in the nursing program, appreciated everything that I’d done and supported my work. It’s beyond my greatest expectations. Imagine if I hadn’t gone! The rest is history.”
Technology investments – including 50 Oculus Quest headsets, UbiSim software program and the Insta Titan 360 camera – soon followed. Those enabled Okupniak to, among other things, film empty clinical rooms at Jefferson Abington Hospital.
When the VR installations are completed this year, they will then be able to “bring the clinical settings to the students,” Dr. Okupniak says. “It’s all about immersion and presence. A student said it best: ‘I feel like a ghost.’ They can see everything, but nobody can see them. Students put the headsets on, and we assign a patient. They go in as a nurse and take care of the patient. It’s very realistic and interactive.”
Virtual reality compliments nursing student’s clinical training; it does not replace taking care of real patients, she says.
As for future plans, Dr. Okupniak sees a potential for meditation offerings in the Igloo for students to reduce test anxiety. She has already met with the digital design team to create content to help better prepare for the nursing board examinations to keep up with the changes that will begin this year.
THE FUTURE ARRIVES SOON
This spring, VR installations – which are versatile lecture halls – are set to be installed at the School of Nursing’s Dixon campus, the Dorrance H. Hamilton Building and the Paul J. Gutman Library. Those can serve as steppingstones to increase the number of faculty members credentialed for such instruction.
Internal content creation teams have been formed between instructional design, media services, IS&T, and faculty, as well.
Since essentially all web-based platforms can also be utilized within Igloo spaces, in addition to VR-compatible simulations, virtually anyone can plug their laptop in and access their content within an Igloo.
Faculty and students can create 3D prototypes, VR-compatible renderings, XR runways and other types of virtual representations, and many instructors can set up virtual or hybrid classrooms.
The fact that University President Dr. Mark Tykocinski and Chief Operating Officer Kathy Gallagher wanted to invest time and resources into this approach is very important. Projects like these cannot find success without leadership vision and support.
–Viraj Patwardhan, Vice President of Academic Strategy and Planning
Earlier in this awareness phase, an AR-VR Simulation Studio course was held for six UX grad students in the Fall 2022 semester. Patwardhan, the University’s Vice President of Academic Strategy and Planning, spoke about that course, how the XR initiative started and where it will go from here.
He noted that it all started roughly three years ago, when the pandemic bolstered the need for the Hybrid Flexible (HyFlex) model that would define the University’s educational response. (The HyFlex model offers equal experiences for virtual and in-person students, along with options on how to experience the content, be that synchronous or virtually asynchronous.)
“We needed a presence online beyond ‘here’s Canvas and you can take courses here,’” Patwardhan explains. “The fact that University President Dr. Mark Tykocinski and Chief Operating Officer Kathy Gallagher wanted to invest time and resources into this approach is very important. Projects like these cannot find success without leadership vision and support.”
Patwardhan also discussed the challenge of finding XR consistency across all areas of learning and getting faculty trained in using it. The studio course was valuable in establishing baseline means and methodologies for a path forward.
Jefferson has made the decision to assertively move into this domain of teaching and learning, and we have committed substantial resources, time and effort to make Jefferson a leader and innovator in this field.
–Dr. Peter Miller, Senior Associate Provost for Academic Enterprise Initiatives
A first-of its kind endeavor, it also provided insights of how it could work for students.
“We hope to launch that again in the Fall of 2023 with different stakeholders involved,” Patwardhan says. “This is one way for the University and the Health System to work together in a different capacity.”
In addition to the College of Nursing’s embrace of the initiative, the Institute for Smart and Healthy Cities and the College of Architecture and the Built Environment (CABE) has employed XR in a joint “Cities Under Climate Threat: Venice – Philadelphia” studio.
Daniel Paul – an architecture student in the class of 2023 – notes that he and fellow students “are seeking to push the envelope of how VR and AR can display.”
Collaborating with three studios of students and professors, the team is working to display two large-scale physical models of Venice and Philadelphia, layered with virtual reality, projection mapping and augmented reality.
“VR is a pure form of escapism, and we will be utilizing it to place visitors straight into renderings of our proposed projects. It allows observation of a world beyond our own,” Paul explains. “Through all three means, visitors to ‘Cities under Climate Threat’ will be able to experience Philadelphia and Venice in a whole new way, and hopefully walk away with a unique sense of purpose given the interactive nature of the exhibition.”
Several other programs are utilizing XR currently, while others are exploring its potential use. They include:
- AR-VR Simulation Studio, UX Program. Fall 2022 completed. Next studio is planned for Fall 2023.
- Center for Interprofessional Practice and Education (JCIPE). Virtual home health visits, with a projected launch in March 2023.
- Fashion Design. A course which launched in the spring of 2022 focused on “3D Virtual Fashion.” Also, the use of CLO 3D software introduces the concept of 3D virtual design as part of the curriculum for upper-level students.
- Interior Design. VR Oculus headsets and backpacks using platforms Tiltbrush and Iris’ Prospect.
- Jefferson Institute for Bioprocessing. Current: Digital twins of JIB facility via CyberTwin partnership.
- Nursing. VR platform: UbiSim. VR-compatible 360 Simulations using GoPro Max and Titan360 cameras.
- Physical Therapy. A capstone project focused on the brain stem.
- Urban Design. XR utilized in Fall ’22 course.
- User Experience. VR Vive and Oculus headsets using platforms Figma, XD, and Maya
- Among the colleges, programs and groups working to determine how they will further employ VR are Sidney Kimmel Medical College, College of Architecture and the Built Environment, the Fashion Industries Association Student Organization and Health Design Lab Student Organizations.
As part of the digital-learning team, Dr. Miller – Senior Associate Provost for Academic Enterprise Initiatives – puts the impetus for this initiative, as well as its overarching aims, into perspective.
“It is clear that extended reality, in all its applications, is going to be an integral component of higher education and professional practice going forward,” he says. “Jefferson has made the decision to assertively move into this domain of teaching and learning, and we have committed substantial resources, time and effort to make Jefferson a leader and innovator in this field.
“More importantly, our goal is to ensure that our learners are very well prepared to integrate XR in their professional futures.”