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Immersive Tech

Educause XR Research Dives into Impact on Teaching and Learning

woman and man wearing virtual reality headsets

The second year of Educause's ongoing research on the use of immersive technologies has expanded from 10 colleges and universities to 17. And the findings on the use of what the researchers call "XR" (extended reality) have likewise grown. For example, one finding noted that the cost involved both in acquiring XR gear and applications as well as the cost of the time required to learn how to use the equipment shouldn't exceed that of alternatives already in place.

The project, which is being funded by HP but run completely by Educause, is intended to help schools understand what types of learning goals can be supported by XR and how best to integrate XR mechanisms into the teaching and learning. The participating institutions were supplied with augmented reality, virtual reality and 3D printing and scanning technologies. Those involved included some returnees from last year's study along with new campuses. To develop this year's research report, researcher Jeff Pomerantz interviewed institutional leaders and staff and analyzed related documents and artifacts. Pomerantz is a former senior researcher from Educause's Center for Analysis and Research (ECAR) and currently an associate professor of practice and online program coordinator at Simmons University.

Besides the cost element, the report shared five broad findings:

  • The use of XR can "contribute to learning gains" across myriad domains — "though not necessarily all equally."
  • The effective use of XR in pedagogy falls into three categories: supporting teaching and learning that's skills- and competency-based (such as enabling nursing students to practice with virtual patients); expanding the types of activities that can be turned into hands-on experience (such as allowing physics students to interact with magnetic fields); and enabling activities that couldn't be accomplished easily in the real world (such as handling new materials or tools that aren't readily available).
  • XR isn't a shoe-in even with digital natives. According to Pomerantz, students need "sufficient time" to work with the technology and they need "some technical skills." As a result, one academic term may not be enough time to learn XR techniques and cover the class content.
  • Adopting XR must "fit into the instructors' existing practices." That's especially relevant where accreditation standards, course materials and instructional methods must adhere to specific rules.
  • Finally, to be effective XR must be implemented with fidelity (realism), ease of use (for both students and instructors), novelty (variance from what's usually done in a given course), time-on-task (to increase student engagement) and the "spirt of experimentation" (those involved need "freedom, flexibility and resources" to immerse themselves sufficiently).

The report offered numerous recommendations for instructors, institutions, future researchers and technology developers. For the schools themselves, Pomerantz advised supporting the campus community through workshops and classroom support, providing space and equipment for the users where they can experiment with XR technology, promoting "capacity building" for everybody involved — faculty, IT staff and instructional designers — and participating in community-building by sharing "uses and practices" for XR within the Educause community.

As D. Christopher Brooks, director of research for Educause noted in a statement, "In 'XR for Teaching and Learning,' we lay the groundwork for future applied research on XR by considering possible factors that may influence the effectiveness of XR, such as how realistic the simulation is, how easy the technology is for students and faculty to use and the degree to which XR increases time on task. The study includes examples of how XR is already contributing to the experiential and competency-based learning experience of students by making the abstract concrete, the remote near, and the impossible possible."

The report and supporting materials are openly available on Educause's website.

About the Author

Dian Schaffhauser is a senior contributing editor for 1105 Media's education publications THE Journal and Campus Technology. She can be reached at dian@dischaffhauser.com or on Twitter @schaffhauser.

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