Carroll Community College’s new Lynx Lab will provide virtual reality experiences to students studying anatomy, history, coding, languages, science and engineering.
The Times caught up with Andrea Gravelle, director of online learning and media, to learn what students can expect from the new lab, which opened last week.
Q: Why did the college want a virtual reality lab?
A: Carroll is always looking for ways to enhance the student experience and provide new and engaging programming. Virtual reality is cutting-edge technology that has become more accessible and affordable in recent years. Because the technology is immersive and without the constraints of boundaries or time, students are able to learn nearly any subject in new ways. Studies show that students who use VR have a richer and deeper learning experience.
Q: How can virtual reality enhance a student’s academic experience?
A: When a student dons a headset, they are taken to another world. For example, students in an anatomy and physiology course can learn about the human body using an experience where they can travel the bloodstream or examine the human heart interactively in ways that cannot be replicated. While many may think of games when they hear VR, the reality is that there are hundreds of educational experiences. Using VR, students can break geographical barriers and visit places they otherwise may not, visit historical places and cultures, participate in contextualized learning, have multisensory experiences that increase the learner’s engagement, create deeper empathy among learners, practice and hone skills without fear of the consequences of failure. We also plan to use our VR headsets for fun since that is also an important part of education.
Q: Which programs or departments will have access to the Lynx Lab?
A: All students and staff are welcome to use the VR lab free of charge as long as they present a Carroll ID. We have cataloged approximately 600 experiences and categorized them by the College’s divisions.
Q: What will that experience look like for students?
A: Depending on the course, students may have the opportunity to use VR that their professor has curated. They may also use VR on their own if they wish. In order to see what experiences are available, students can log into the school’s Learning Management System (LMS), Canvas, and go to Student Resources where there is a Virtual Reality Module with a link to the available experiences. Students then make an appointment when they find an experience. The lab is located in the library and contains eight headsets, four of which can be brought to a classroom. Once students are checked into the lab, they are assisted by lab personnel in adjusting the headset, navigating the experience as necessary, and monitored for their safety. Most experiences can be viewed on a monitor for students who may not want to wear a headset. All students are required to sign an Acknowledgement of Risk form, or have their parents sign one if they are under 18.
Once in the headset, experiences vary. Some are user-driven and active while others, such as documentaries, are more passive. All, however, have 360-degree views and sound.
Q: How much did the technology cost?
A: Startup costs for the VR lab were $28,000. Thanks to the Higher Education Emergency Relief Fund (HEERF) which, in part, required grants to be spent on enhancing student experiences, we were able to fully build out our lab sooner than originally anticipated. The grant also allowed us to purchase two types of headsets, thus significantly expanding immersive experiences for students.