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San Diego State launches vital center for virtual technologies and learning

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Posted at 12:03 PM, Jan 20, 2022
and last updated 2022-01-20 15:03:57-05

SAN DIEGO (CNS) — San Diego State University's Information Technology Division has opened a research center intended to help expand the use of virtual technologies in the classroom, it was announced Thursday.

"This is about evolving the traditional learning environment and harnessing the tremendous power of immersive technologies to dramatically increase learner attention by increasing student engagement," said Jerry Sheehan, vice president for information technology.

The mission of the Virtual Immersive Teaching and Learning Center is to "improve teaching, learning and student success through state-of-the-art technological tools and resources," said James Frazee, deputy chief information officer and senior associate vice president for learning environments, technologies, and user services -- a unit within the IT division.

The research center's faculty and staff will involve students in collaborative projects to design, develop, research, and engage with extended reality -- also known as XR.

"The VITaL Center will create and leverage open, affordable, and inclusive immersive learning resources to serve a diverse community of learners," Frazee said.

Instructional Technology Services, a unit within the SDSU IT division, launched the VITaL initiative in fall 2017. As a result, faculty created new ways of teaching through the use of XR applications to include the creation of low-frequency, high-risk scenarios.

According to the university, some simulated life-threatening medical conditions created interactive moon phase simulations for astronomy students and created virtual anatomy lab specimens for distance learning.

VITaL resources have been used by 56 faculty teaching 70 courses across all eight colleges at SDSU.

"These experiences have been particularly valuable for students at rural SDSU Imperial Valley who do not have access to the same traditional simulation facilities available for students at the San Diego campus," Frazee said.

According to a university statement, a growing body of research indicates that the use of immersive technology simulation fosters student success through increased learner confidence, emotional connection, and motivation to learn, said Sean Hauze, the Instructional Technology Services director, whose own research at SDSU has demonstrated such findings.

"As a result, post-secondary education is in the midst of unprecedented change," he said.

"In light of these new realities, universities must provide flexible, customizable, technology-enhanced learning opportunities that allow students to maintain access to high-quality instruction.

"These needs are driving higher education leaders and faculty to rethink instruction to help faculty plan courses that offer a purposeful blend of face-to-face and online modalities to promote active learning and student engagement," Hauze said.