How a Kansas University Uses InstaVR to Publish Cross-Platform Apps Quickly & Easily for their History, Forensic Science, and Business Classes
Emporia State University – School Overview
Emporia State University, founded in 1863, is the third-oldest public university in Kansas. Each year they enroll over 5,700 students and offer degrees in over 80 courses of study. Emporia State University comprises four distinct colleges: the School of Business, College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, School of Library and Information Management, and the Teachers College.
Dr. Anna Catterson is an Instructional Designer and Researcher at the university. Her research and teaching looks at how instructional design theories can be applied to new technologies, such as Virtual Reality. She has introduced and evangelized VR to both faculty members and students. She also serves as the 2017 Colleague2Colleague Chair.
Origins of Virtual Reality (VR) at Emporia State University
Dr. Anna Catterson’s research focuses on the intersection of instructional design and new technologies. So it’s not surprising she was intrigued when she first tried the Oculus Rift VR headset, a year and a half ago at KU Medical Center. She immediately recognized the opportunity for faculty and students alike to create engaging and educational VR content at her school, Emporia State University. But she had to identify the right technology to make this plan feasible.
A primary mandate was to select a VR solution that would be accessible for everybody at the University, but that would also be cost-effective. “When I researched a little bit about InstaVR, that opened some new doors us for us,” according to Dr. Catterson. “It gave us that turnkey solution we were looking for.” She tried out InstaVR herself, publishing to Google Cardboard, and realized the web-based solution might just meet her needs. “We were looking for a solution that would give us ease and flexibility. We’re very happy with InstaVR.”
Before rolling InstaVR out across the university’s four colleges, she needed a successful Pilot test case. So she turned to an unexpected source — a revered octogenarian History professor.
Success with First Pilot App — History Department’s “Ride Into History”
Dr. Joyce Thierer does history reenactments across the nation, performing as famous women throughout history, such as Annie Oakley and Amelia Earhart. With an upcoming performance scheduled at the ESU history professor’s farm, Dr. Catterson saw a great opportunity to record and distribute the show in immersive 360 video. So she set up her 360 camera, recorded the performance of “Ride Into History”, and had the raw media she needed to create a mobile VR application.
Dr. Catterson and her team learned a few lessons with this first pilot attempt. First, you have to place the 360 camera where people won’t walk in front of it, which is tough since the camera captures all directions. Second, length of video matters. Dr. Catterson had recorded over an hour of material, but certainly couldn’t use all of it in the final app.
Using InstaVR, Dr. Catterson created a Google Cardboard app of the performance. Students liked seeing their professor in this immersive environment, with an engaging experience that’s as close as possible to being there. Dr. Thierer liked it too. “She saw it, loved it, and is implementing it for her class,” according to Dr. Catterson.
Expanding to the Forensic Science Department, Enabling Students to Virtually Experience Crime Scenes
With one successful pilot under her belt, Dr. Catterson wanted to branch out into some more practical use cases. Forensic Science students reached out to the Kansas Bureau of Investigation, which has a modern building in Topeka, Kansas with office spaces that allow for simulating crime scenes. So the students did just that — laying out a body, adding bloody footprints and empty beer bottles.
They captured the scene using a Samsung Gear 360 camera. Dr. Catterson also brought along her DSL camera, to capture 2D images and videos that could be added as close-up Hotspots in the final app. After returning to Emporia, it took her less than an hour in InstaVR to augment the 360 images with Hotspots and Audio Narration, producing VR apps that could be shown both on Google Cardboards and Samsung Gear VRs.
The final app served two purposes:
- Students Can Learn the Act of Discovery — examining in the VR headset the clues, the DNA, the evidence left in the room. Adding to the investigation was audio dubbed into the app of the “victim” talking, providing additional clues.
- Students Can Learn Terminology — particularly using Hotspots, students can view objects in the scene (ie a weapon) and learn about them through text boxes, images or videos. This incorporates course content in the VR multimedia application.
They’re already planning their next 360 virtual crime scene — one in a motor vehicle bay where students can virtually search a car for evidence.
How InstaVR is Essential in the Process, Enabling Hotspots and Audio Narration, Plus Easy Cross-Platform Publishing
InstaVR has become an essential part of the VR creation process at Emporia State University. It has saved students and faculty alike immense amounts of time, as it doesn’t require coding and has an easy-to-learn drag-and-drop interface. “It’s really easy with InstaVR,” according to Dr. Catterson. “We could not have done it without it.”
Just a few of the key features currently being used by Dr. Catterson and her students & teachers include:
Hotspots – Hotspots allow you to view or hover over an object in the 360 media, triggering an overlaid image, video or text box. The forensic students, in particular, benefit from the learning opportunities afforded by this feature of InstaVR. They can learn both how to better investigate a crime scene, as well as some of the specific terminology used.
Supplemental Audio – Because the virtual crime scenes are audio free, Dr. Catterson adds voiceover of the “victim” of the crime. The students can combine the visual of the crime scene, with what they learn from the audio, to make more informed forensic decisions.
Cross Platform Publishing – Emporia State University owns an Oculus Rift, in addition to several Gear VRs. But their Bookstore also sells Google Cardboards, and they have a 3D printer so they can create their own headsets. With InstaVR, they need to only author an application once in the platform, and then with one click publish to each of the different headsets. The business students even use WebVR to pitch local businesses on the benefits of VR. (read more below)
Drag and Drop Interface, with No Coding Required – With some teachers skeptical on the value of VR, and students having a busy schedule, it was imperative to select a technology partner that anyone can use, and that wouldn’t take a long time to create VR apps. “From start to finish, I’ll bet I haven’t spent more than an hour uploading the content, doing the hotspots, and adding the audio,” according to Catterson. “It’s really quite simple.”
Real World Applications: How Business Students Use VR in their Capstone Process to Help Local Businesses Better Market Themselves
Business students are also leveraging the benefits of InstaVR to help local businesses. As part of their Capstone experience, a select group of students have partnered up with a mall, a non-profit arts group, a chocolate store, a bookstore, and a nursing home. They used WebVR to show each of the companies what the technology is, and are in the process of creating engaging 360 tours that promote the businesses in a new and unique manner.
They’ll be presenting the VR business projects to the President, Provost and Administration of the school on November 28th. And that’s likely just the start for business students and InstaVR. Dr. Catterson explains, “Because of the ease of InstaVR, there’s really no end to the possibilities of what you can use it for.”
Taking VR on the Road, Teaching High School Students How to Make VR Using InstaVR
As if the History, Forensic Science, and Business student uses of InstaVR weren’t enough, Dr. Catterson has also utilized the technology in teaching at schools across Kansas. Her team is teaching students at Makerspace locations on K-12 campuses, and to teachers as part of their in-service training. “We take our headsets with us, and we educate them on InstaVR, and what you can do with it. We’re kinda like travelling salesmen for InstaVR sometimes.”
Ultimately, the success of Dr. Catterson and her team can be traced back to using Virtual Reality in a way that augments classroom learning. In each use case, they’re specifically using VR because the power of the multimedia platform, coupled with the immersive nature of VR headsets. According to Dr. Catterson, “The key is to link VR content back to course outcomes. If you don’t do that, there’s no value. If you link it right back to the course content, that’s where you see the value.”
And now everyone at Emporia State University — from students to professors to K-12 students they also teach — are starting to see and experience the value of VR, and the InstaVR platform in particular. “It speaks volumes about InstaVR, and how it is used for anybody at any age, any demographic. It has a diversity and inclusion plan built into it. Anybody can use it.”