Drexel Introduces Repository of Virtual Reality Content to Enhance Online Education

screenshot of a heart diagram
Screenshot of the interactive heart diagram included in the VRtifacts+ repository.

New digital enhancements will take online education to new and far more expansive heights at Drexel University. As envisioned by Drexel University Online President Susan Aldridge, PhD, VRtifacts+, a first of its kind repository, will empower faculty and instructional designers to seamlessly incorporate 250,000 augmented, virtual and mixed reality learning objects across a wealth of disciplines into the University’s online coursework.

“Virtual reality by itself has proven to increase academic outcomes by 400 percent,” Aldridge said. “Imagine the exponential impact we can make, by having all of these technologies easily available through one web-based, user-friendly application.”

Students will be able to access and explore the virtual objects on any device, from smartphones and laptops, to VR glasses and trackpads.

The repository will be available to faculty through Drexel’s Blackboard interface and includes 3-D objects and 360-degree panoramas in addition to virtual and mixed reality images. Instructors can search for terms like “heart diagram” and download the images they want to use in their courses.

“Given the repository’s size and scope, we will have the capacity to develop and pilot ever more powerful approaches for delivering Drexel’s state-of-the-art curriculum within its Blackboard Learn platform,” said Stephanie Sutcliff, DUO director of Learning Technology.

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Having spent more than 20 years in university leadership positions within the online education space, Aldridge knows how difficult it is for busy faculty to keep up with constantly evolving digital technologies. She and her DUO team have spent the past two years researching “pockets of innovation” in technology-enhanced education worldwide, which has produced more than 100 case studies. In conducting this research, Aldridge began brainstorming ideas around how Drexel can further capitalize on its findings and came up with the VRtifacts+ repository.

“We know that students are becoming quite adept at using a wide range of digital tools to connect, collaborate and construct knowledge on their own – which is why they have come to expect the same flexibility and sophistication in their academic settings,” Aldridge said. “And knowing how other institutions are effectively using ‘reality’ technologies, I began to see where Drexel might expand upon that success, by creating an easily searchable repository of robust AVR learning objects.”

To accomplish this goal, DUO joined forces with 3Dream Studios and mapped out a multi-year development project. In addition to the repository, this project will eventually leverage such other technologies as artificial intelligence, machine learning and Blockchain, to fully enhance the virtual learning experience at Drexel. For Aldridge and her team, this innovative initiative will add tremendous value to the academic investment for online students of all ages, abilities and learning preferences, an aspiration shared by faculty members, as well.

“Drexel has long been a leader in innovation and technology in the online arena working to deliver high-quality educational content,” said Karyn Holt, PhD, director of Online Quality at the College of Nursing and Health Professions. “VRtifacts+ will push our virtual walls even further offering expanded experiential opportunities for learning. Humans learn through experiences. From that perspective, it is truly a strategic investment in our university’s future, as online and blended education continues to build.”