Exploring the benefits of extended reality in higher ed and industry

Tuesday January 19, 2021
Exploring the benefits of extended reality in higher ed and industry

Northeast Wisconsin Technical College named grant recipient and participant in HP/EDUCAUSE Campus of the Future project with Yale, Stanford, and others

New learning tools and equipment coming in spring to Northeast Wisconsin Technical College (NWTC), along with the College’s participation in a national study, have the potential to make a big impact on education and industry in the region. 

NWTC has been named a grant recipient and participant in HP/EDUCAUSE Campus of the Future, a multi-year research project exploring the benefits of virtual reality (VR), augmented reality (AR), and 3D printing/scanning in higher education.

Of the 30 research study members, NWTC is the only technical college involved in year four of the grant project, which is being made possible by HP and EDUCAUSE, a nonprofit association for information technology (IT) in higher education. Major research universities, including Yale and Stanford, will be providing research and developing technology for the project, while NWTC will be working to integrate the latest devices into technical training and education.

“This grant, and the learning opportunities that go along with it, strengthen our efforts to help maintain and grow Northeast Wisconsin’s position as a leading manufacturing region in the United States and the world,” said Dr. Jeff Rafn, NWTC president. “We are proud to be part of the Campus of the Future program and a leader in Industry 4.0 education and training.”

NWTC will receive $20,000 in AR, VR, and 3D printing equipment, boosting current and future efforts to produce graduates with Industry 4.0 skills. The technology will be used to pilot extended reality learning experiences. For example, with AR, students in architecture classes will be able to “see” their designs at scale and walk through the building in their designs – allowing students to see issues and opportunities usually not identified until construction is in progress. In addition, the new equipment will allow IT students to gain hands-on learning experiences in programming, setting up, and troubleshooting AR/VR technology. (See NWTC education and training related to Industry 4.0.)

“We have been so impressed by the vision and innovative teaching and learning at Northeast Wisconsin Technical College and congratulate the leadership and instructional teams on being awarded an EDUCAUSE Campus of the Future grant this year,” said Mike Belcher, director of EdTech Innovation at HP Inc. “Personally, I can’t wait to see the amazing research and instructional use cases that come out of NWTC through this project in the coming years and so appreciate the partnership between all of our organizations.”

Jill Thiede, associate dean in NWTC Trades and Engineering Technologies, is excited the project will help bring Industry 4.0 technology to Northeast Wisconsin.

“So many companies want to understand Industry 4.0 but don’t know where to start,” said Thiede. “We can help folks see where they can begin with AR/VR and how they can leverage technology to improve workforce processes. Our graduates will be well-prepared to contribute to employers adapting the technologies and enhancing their competitiveness in these spaces.”

For Dan Mincheff, NWTC chief information officer, the Campus of the Future project is not just about the technology, but about connections. Other colleges and universities in the cohort include Yale, Dartmouth, Stanford, and University of Pennsylvania, all returning participants from previous years’ studies.

“It is significant that NWTC has the opportunity to collaborate at this level,” said Mincheff. “Our participation gives NWTC and the region exposure to these prestigious, research-focused universities and brings potential educational pathways for our students.”

In conversations with returning study participants, Mincheff learned they are interested in seeing how NWTC will apply the cutting-edge technology in career and technical education settings. “The schools we are working with are excited to have us on board as well,” Mincheff said. “We bring the ability to test elements they are designing.”

NWTC’s involvement in the Campus of the Future project is coming at just the right time as area companies continue to deal with COVID-19 challenges. Sue Zittlow, associate dean in NWTC’s College of Business, believes the new technology and opportunities coming to the College can help businesses not only survive but thrive, now and post-pandemic.

“This is a whole different partnership,” said Zittlow. “It will help shape the future of industries. It will help mold our students to be strong with innovation – critical thinkers – and help our businesses be competitive, a true advantage.”

NWTC’s long range plans for extended reality technology include creating an Experiential Learning Lab that will provide both students and businesses with hands-on learning opportunities in AR/VR technology.