Eduvation Blog

Escaping Reality, Extending It, and Confronting It

Good morning, and Happy Monday!

Today virtual orientation activities are kicking off on campuses across the country, as the pandemic rages on: worldwide we have surpassed 25 million cases, lately led by India with >75,000 new cases every day for the past 4 days.

Especially on Mondays, many of us would like to escape reality. Today, let’s take a deep dive into some of the VR and AR simulations being deployed to do the opposite: to bring some experiential reality into online courses, whether through virtual field trips or simulated science labs, virtual patients or simulated forklifts.

And, #ICYMI, I want to share a couple of recent student testimonial videos that really confront the reality of COVID19 head-on, from the perspective of a uAlabama student who caught it in June, and 2 UCF students who can’t afford to catch it.

But first, some alarming developments in Alabama and Georgia we can’t ignore…

COVID on Campus

Worst-case scenarios seem to be playing out on campuses in the southern US, where Republican governors have pushed for reopening…

2,411 Cases at uAlabama

Last week, uAlabama was the worst-hit US campus with 566 COVID19 cases. By the weekend, their dashboardindicated 1,368 students and 1,043 employees had tested positive across the UofA system, for a total of 2,411 cases to date. (See #ICYMI below for some of uAlabama’s messaging to students.)

30% Quarantined in Georgia

Georgia College & State U told its 6,800 students they had no choice other than to return to campus this fall, did not test them upon arrival, and is not tracing contacts. Now they count more than 514 students who have tested positive for COVID19 (more than 7% of the student body), and reports estimate that fully one-third of students are currently in quarantine. (The policy seems to indicate that requires them returning home to family.) The institution is determined to continue F2F teaching, and blames off-campus parties for the virus’ spread.  Inside Higher Ed  |  Chronicle

While many examples in the US are shocking, a case can be made that the situation in Canada, or at least in some regions of the country, will be different. And while the headlines are not nearly so striking, there are some campuses that have quietly managed a small-scale return of students quite safely…

ZERO Cases at Mohawk

Mohawk College, for example, has had more than 1,000 “stranded” students back on campus to complete hands-on labs since Jul 1 – and notably, they report zero cases of COVID19. The key factors have been social distancing, adequate PPE, and ensuring everyone takes the situation very seriously. Student numbers will quadruple shortly, as students return for fall.  CHCH

Simulating Reality

VR and AR simulations have been steadily proliferating across all levels of education for decades, but the COVID19 pandemic has kicked their adoption into overdrive as traditional F2F labs and work placements have been shut down. Here are some interesting examples I’ve noted this summer…

The Advantage of VR Labs

The COVID19 pandemic is accelerating the adoption of online simulators for Science labs, just as educators have been arguing for its benefits: reduced cost, 24/7 availability, and the opportunity to explore freely and learn from mistakes. “It’s not really so much about hands-on… [as] about solving problems,” explains a CWRU biomedical engineering prof. Nearly a million teachers and students started using LabXchange this spring, a collaborative platform from Harvard/EdX for sharing unbundled OER components. Many believe simulated labs will persist as a valuable complement to in-person labs, post-COVID.  Times Higher Ed

AR Science Labs at Ryerson

Ryerson U has developed 20 “immersive and fun” first-year Science labs in a $250,000 licensing deal with NexTech AR Solutions. This fall the “Ryerson Augmented Learning Experience” (RALE v1.0) will provide about 5,000 students with AR-enhanced labs in chemistry, biology, and physics courses, which will allow them to “beam home” lab equipment and materials and collaborate with lab techs and fellow students in real time. “The incorporation of augmented reality into the STEM learning environment will change pedagogy forever.” NexTech hopes to sign up other universities in Canada and elsewhere.  Proactive Investors UK  |  Vimeo

Virtually Unlimited Labs

There are a variety of OER and commercial platforms for simulated labs. UC Boulder’s PhET (founded in 2002 by Nobel Laureate Carl Wieman) offers 158 free game-like interactive simulations for science and math. Duke’s MorphoSource offers 27,000 3D models of biological specimens, about half of them open source. The Concord Consortium offers free STEM resources including virtual labs and models. Labster, the leading commercial provider, is being used by thousands of universities worldwide to provide virtual science labs. (ICYMI, I interviewed uWaterloo’s Cathy Newell Kelly about Labster, Riipen, and other pilot programs in virtual delivery for this episode of Ten with Ken 2 years ago.)

Virtual Field Trips at Dal

An environmental sciences instructor at Dalhousie U has captured more than 50,000 ultra-high-resolution photos since June, and is stitching them together into annotated 3D models that students will use to simulate more than 20 virtual field trips this fall. At locations across Nova Scotia, students can zoom from 100-meter to 1-centimeter scale, and listen to instructors explain the field sites – even if they hate camping, hiking, or being outdoors.  Dal

VR Forklift Training

The pandemic has accelerated the growth of ecommerce and the need for warehouse forklift operators. Saskatchewan Polytechnic has partnered with White Rabbit VR to develop a mobile VR forklift training simulator, a physical simulator with realistic controls and hand tracking technology. “VR is a great way to create an immersive learning experience for students.” White Rabbit hopes to export the simulator to PSEs across the country.  SaskPolytech

Rez Updates

As students return to campuses across the country, local and regional media are reporting on the process and precautions…

Concordia U has closed its residences for the academic year, since they could not maintain social distancing measures in such a small area. They are helping about 900 students secure off-campus housing. Global

uSask plans to operate residences at about 25% occupancy, and only those taking in-person classes, from rural areas with poor bandwidth, or international students will be considered. Global

uToronto anticipates having about 10% of students on campus at any given time compared to previous years. 90% of courses have a purely online option. G&M

uVic is delivering 90% of courses online, expects about 10% of students on campus, and is operating residences at 38% occupancy. G&M


For several months, colleges and universities have been releasing public health information videos, PSAs and training videos to communicate the importance of physical distancing, masking, hand hygiene and other precautions on campus. (I shared a couple of examples on Friday, and 4 others the week before that.) But their tone has been shifting…

Light-Hearted Mascots

Early on, campus mascots demonstrated the desired behaviours in fairly light-hearted videos, like Eastern Michigan’s “Be Like Swoop,” Sheridan’s “Be Like Bruno,” or even CBU’s “Stay the Blazes Home.”


Later, student government leaders or student ambassadors tried to convey confidence and shared commitment in peer-directed videos, like Acadia’s “We’ve Got This,” Notre Dame’s “Here We Share Responsibility,” Whitworth’s “Protect the Crew,” or UNC Chapel Hill’s “Protecting Our Community.” (Judging by the severity of outbreaks at UNC, this appeal to altruism did not counteract students’ drive to socialize.)

Anxious Demands

As US campus outbreaks exploded in mid-August, senior administrators started speaking more urgently about the need to follow behavioural compacts and consequences for violating protocols – like Richmond’s “Don’t Break Our Web,” Coastal Carolina’s “Thoughts from President DeCenzo,” Hofstra’s “Be Safe. Be Smart,” or most extremely, Virginia Tech’s “Frank Shushok outlines expectations.” Towards the end of August, some peer messages start to change tone too, like “HEY! Do you like it here?” and “They say we can’t do it,” in Coastal Carolina’s “Student-to-Student Appeal.”

Student Testimonials

But most recently, student testimonials are sharing personal experiences with COVID19 to reach students…

uCentral Florida’s 3-min video, “Protecting our Immunocompromised Knights,” shares the stories of Chelsea, who has chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and asthma, and Erin, who has postural orthostatic tachycardial syndrome. Both are concerned about their vulnerability to COVID19, and make a heartfelt appeal to students to wear a face covering to save lives. YouTube

It’s probably no coincidence that uAlabama, faced with skyrocketing COVID19 cases on campus, released a new 90-sec video yesterday telling “John Dodd’s COVID19 Story.” As a “20-year-old healthy boy” he came down with COVID in June and experienced fever, shortness of breath, and many other symptoms. The video deserves to be watched more widely. YouTube


I hope your week is off to a great start!  Tune in tomorrow as we continue our look at VR simulations and future directions in the technology.

Meanwhile, stay safe and be well!

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