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UTSA to leverage virtual reality tools to train biology students

UTSA to leverage virtual reality tools to train biology students

UTSA Office of Information Technology staff test the virtual reality headsets for the Labster collaborative project.

(Aug. 29, 2018) -- UTSA is expanding its utilization and research on virtual reality (VR) through a new partnership with industry leaders Labster, Google and Lenovo. Led by the UTSA Office of Information Technology (OIT), later this fall, the university will provide VR simulations to allow its students to conduct university-level science laboratory work without ever visiting a traditional science laboratory.

UTSA’s program will provide students with cutting-edge VR headsets that contain pre-loaded STEM content, developed by Labster, to immerse them in a virtual learning environment as well as content designed specifically by UTSA to support student success. In addition to integration with certain courses via Blackboard, the program also will be available to all UTSA students through the OIT Digital Experience Lab (DEx Lab), which is slated to open in late fall 2018.

Labster, a global VR content provider, in partnership with Google and Lenovo, designed the program on an international scale to support student science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) success. Its biology laboratory is intended to provide exposure to emerging technology, and will help to engage students via defined learning goals, interactive experiments with simulated data and 360 animations.

The pre-loaded content currently available will support students enrolled in gateway biology courses as well as those with an interest in science and engineering. Labster has released initial simulation modules including cellular respiration and laboratory safety and plans to release more simulations in the coming year. UTSA also plans to develop university specific tools including a student success module to support increased graduation and retention rates.

“Providing resources and training to support faculty in serving students is essential as we begin to evolve the technology in classrooms to support our next generation learners,” said director of Learning Technology Joe Tobares. “With the creation of the new DEx Lab, we now have a place to promote innovative learning tools like never before.”

The DEx Lab will also serve as a VR lab where the UTSA community can access the VR headsets and have a hands-on experience. In addition, OIT and several faculty partners will collaborate to identify and develop appropriate content as well as promote participation in the program through their courses, biology labs, and use of the DEx Lab.

“UTSA has been an early adopter in scientific visualization technology since we obtained an NSF equipment grant in 2009. The grant enabled the establishment of the Advanced VizLab on campus in 2011,” said Yusheng Feng, professor of Mechanical and Biomedical Engineering, and director of Center for Simulation Visualization and Real Time Prediction (SiViRT). “The new VR technology will push visualization for research and education to the next level by bringing VR to the classroom. We expect more enthusiasm and creativity through VR learning of our students.”

“This is groundbreaking technology for UTSA students and faculty,” said assistant vice provost for IT Vanessa Hammler Kenon. “OIT entered this collaborative project with funding from our Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation iPASS grant which introduced and supported numerous student success efforts on our campus in continued support of the UTSA Strategic Plan.”

Rosalind Ong

Read more about the VR partnership on the Labster blog.

Learn more about the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation Integrated Planning and Advising for Student Success grant.

Learn more about OIT student technology resources.

Connect with UTSA online at Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Instagram and LinkedIn.

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