Expanding the Reality of Campus

A grant from the Minnesota State system will help faculty and staff at MSUM update their technology skills to better match student expectations.

Expanding the Reality of Campus is a multi-campus collaboration between MSUM, St. Cloud Technical & Community College, Century College and St. Cloud State University. The project received a nearly $150,000 grant to design workshops on how to use immersive experiences to better educate students—both in person and online.

“Students coming in have been growing up with this stuff,” says Alex Fogarty, program lead at MSUM and a member of the graphic communications faculty. “We need to stay current. To be a modern university, we need offerings that are compelling.”

Immersive experiences include everything from using 360 videos and photos to offering fully virtual experiences. What the experiences have in common is that users can make choices about how to interact and explore within the medium.

Immersive technology is something that the next generation of college students interacts with regularly. Elementary and secondary students already play and socialize in virtual worlds through popular video games or apps like Roblox, Minecraft and Pokémon Go.

Adapting those technologies to higher education is a way to stay current; it’s also a way to improve learning.

“We know students learn better when they’re doing or experiencing something,” Fogarty says. “They maintain more knowledge than if they just hear a lecture or read a text.”

Incorporating even one immersive experience in a class—like exploring a 360 video of the Sistine Chapel or using augmented reality to dissect a frog—can keep students engaged.

Learning immersive technologies can be difficult, but every discipline has tools and products that make it easier, Fogarty says. In addition, hardware like virtual reality headsets, have become less expensive and easier to use.

A series of workshops will introduce faculty and staff to options and then help them determine how to incorporate these technologies into their own classrooms.

“It’s so different than any other medium at our disposal right now,” Fogarty says. “We’re trying to get ahead of the game.”

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