Augmented and virtual realities (AR/VR) are opening doors for new learning opportunities as higher education students and faculty discover the possibilities of these new technologies. However, barriers to adoption are higher with Minority Serving Institutions.
According to new research from the Brookings Institution, a team of scholars are exploring the diversity, equity, and inclusion of these technologies with a particular emphasis on historically underserved institutions. AR/VR have already demonstrated their usefulness in medical training, for example, where students can train and engage in experimental surgeries.
The concern is that not all higher education institutions have the resources to provide and implement AR/VR for instruction and other college-oriented guidance.
Challenges and Opportunities
AR is the overlaying of digital information on a real-world place or situation. VR is fully immersive with a headset that creates a computer-generated world for users.
For Minority Serving Institutions (MSI) and community colleges that are chronically underfunded, the upfront investments for headsets and other hardware have been a barrier to adopting AR/VR, although there are institutions that have created immersive environments for courses ranging from STEM to the humanities.
In July 2022, Brookings invited various administrators to a virtual roundtable to discuss diversity, equity, and inclusion. “Institutions represented included: Morehouse University, Northern Virginia Community College, Bowie State University, and the Minority Broadband Initiative led by the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) in the U.S. Department of Commerce.”
Examples shared by the group include:
- The Lab for Applied Social and Science Research (LASSR) at the University of Maryland is using AR/VR focused on equitable policing. They have created more than 100 virtual modules and have trained 2,000 police officers. LASSR receives corporate funding for their work and police departments can purchase software, equipment, and training from LASSR.
- At Bowie State University they are simulating active shooter events for training. The program is supported by two grants from the National Science Foundation (NSF) for Minority Serving Institutions and help scholars with the data about how these events unfold. The university’s Virtual Reality Lab creates virtual experiences that allow computer science students to receive hands-on experience in building and testing VR spaces.
- Morehouse College created VR courses during the pandemic called Morehouse in the Metaverse which has now expanded to additional courses and prepping computer science students for technical interviews using AR/VR.
- The Los Angeles City Community College program uses AR/VR for a full range of subjects from Chemistry to English. 79% of the faculty reported increased student engagement and successful completion of outcomes.
Barriers to AR/VR Adoption
- Funding: Colleges and universities with fewer resources are the most constrained in funding sources. They must rely on grants and fellowships. Many of these institutions are small and do not have the personnel and funding that major funders require. While the NSF has programs for underserved institutions, it is also underfunded—making the chance of receiving funding unlikely.
- Faculty Professional Development and Adoption: Faculty at MSIs and community colleges often have additional responsibilities tending to the needs of their minority and first-generation college students. They have no time to learn new technologies. There may also be something of a perception that these technologies may be something of a fad that prevents adoption.
A potential solution that would make it easier to adopt AR/VR technologies would be a student kit that would include ready-to-go units/lessons and headsets which would eliminate the need for faculty to create their own content. This was recommended by the roundtable that this would reduce barriers and increase adoption.