Student Team Develops Virtual Classrooms at ASU Learning Futures

Students at Learning Futures are developing a virtual reality learning space called Huddle that will be tested by a class at Arizona State University later this semester. Huddle is a teacher-led virtual learning experience working on a new cellular technology that will be used as an educational tool.

In Huddle, students, using VR headsets and controllers, can interact with virtual objects – such as a piece of coral or a model of water molecules – and their environment to learn about different topics. Huddle allows students to choose their own avatars, which resemble stick figures, and draw 3D objects with the Pen tool.

While developing Huddle, the team believed that students, many of whom grew up playing video games, would be familiar with the video game-like nature of Huddle, said Dan Monerley, co-CEO and principal design architect of Huddle. Learn the Next Generation at Arizona State University.

“Now learners have grown up, in the K-12 system, with things like Roblox, with Minecraft, with games, that’s really how we all got along, myself included,” Monerley said. “They have learned a lot in this field. So why not continue learning now at university using the skills they have already acquired along the way?”

Over the past two years, a student-led team at Learning Futures has been developing Huddle, said Toby Kidd, Director of Learning Futures Studios.

Read more: The Arizona State University team develops virtual reality programs to teach intercultural norms

Kidd said that one of Huddle’s first tests with students outside the team will take place in a few weeks at Learning Futures, located in the Creativity Commons building in Tempe, with the students and their instructor from HST 130: The Historian’s Craft.

Monerley said the Huddle could be used in history lessons to immerse students in a historical virtual space, such as World War I trenches, and allow them to engage with virtual artifacts from that time period.

“They bring artifacts from history to life at Huddle where students can actually get these pieces of history, inspect them closely, pass them around, and see them in context,” Monerley said.

Students from the history class will work in small groups and be led by a teacher who controls the tools and items the students can see or use. Huddle uses Oculus headphones and controllers and is connected by 5G, a cellular technology that is faster and has lower data transfer delays than previous technology on cellular networks.

Creative Commons in Tempe is delivered by Verizon 5G Ultra Wideband. Learning Futures is a Verizon 5G Innovation Hub, which means that when working in space, Huddle uses the Verizon 5G Ultra Wideband.

“This whole space is 5G lit,” Kidd said.

Although the first tests will be done at Learning Futures, classes will not have to access this location in the future to use Huddle because the equipment Huddle runs on is portable and can be brought into the classroom. In the upcoming semester, the Huddle team plans to bring a virtual reality learning experience into a classroom at the Thunderbird School of Global Management, Kidd said.

Some students who have used VR are open to using it in the classroom for teaching. Ernesto Peralta, a freshman studying secondary English education, said he’s played VR video games before and believes VR technology can teach auditory and visual learning people.

“With virtual reality, you can confine them to one world,” Peralta said. “You are able to experience it, you can walk it. You live what you learn.”

Huddle will not be the first application of virtual reality as an educational technology for ASU classrooms. Students at BIO 100: Living World classes conduct virtual labs in Dreamscape Learn, a VR experience where students learn about the environment and explore an exotic zoo.

Learning Futures develops other VR software, including simulation To teach people the nuances of intercultural norms and an interactive virtual version of the campus of Arizona State University in Tempe.

Kidd said that many areas where virtual reality is being applied show that the opportunity presented by technology is being embraced.

“Virtual reality is not new,” Kidd said. “This technology has been around for decades, but we’re finally at a point where we can see that there are multiple groups seeking multiple ways to spread immersive technology. And that’s a good thing. That means there’s a lot of work for the people that has to do and a lot of innovation that’s going to happen. And push education forward with immersive tools.”

For Monerly, virtual reality technology is a great opportunity for students who struggle with traditional learning methods in school like him.

“I think that’s what drove me to find a platform that fits those people who don’t fit into the university model, and to create immersive 3D learning environments that actually engage and excite kids who don’t get these opportunities,” Munerley said. “I think that’s what virtual reality does is that it physically puts things in your hand. It puts you in different worlds and lets you sort of be in places you would never get to.”

Edited by White Misko, Greta Forslund, and Pepper Hansen.

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Caden RybackBusiness and Technology Reporter

Kaden is a reporter for the Bureau of Biztech, focusing on student-run businesses, people profiles and research papers. During his time at The State Press, Kaden’s biggest piece was about ASU’s history with NASA. He is a second year student majoring in Journalism and Mass Communication.

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