Illuminate grant gives 3-D design lab a new update for virtual reality skills

The 3-D design lab in Green Hall is getting an update this spring with the installation of Virtual Reality (VR) and Augmented Reality (AR) tools to help students step into the next generation of graphic design.

Thanks to an Illuminate Grant awarded to Professors Joseph Wright, Joshua Wilson and David Meyer of the School of Communication and the Arts, graphic design students will get a taste of the most current 3-D technology.

Seeing a need for updated technology in the classroom, Wilson, a professor of graphic design, was inspired to apply for the grant alongside Wright and Meyer for the chance to bring VR and AR technology to Liberty. Every year, Wilson travels to the Game Developer’s Conference in San Francisco, California, and noticed many VR headsets on display over the years. After seeing VR and AR consistently presented at the conference year after year, Wilson was inspired to bring the future technology into his classroom.

It became very clear after attending the conference multiple times, VR and AR are something that are going to be here to stay,” Wilson said. He later added, “We wanted to make sure that our students have the opportunity to at least be aware
of (the technology).”

Wilson and Wright are hopeful that the VR headsets and AR technology will be available for classroom use late in the spring semester, particularly for students in 3-D graphic design classes. Using a VR headset, design students will essentially step into the 3-D world they create on their desktops, which will allow the designer to physically see the virtual world they have created rather than simply looking at an image on a computer screen.

Although there are no current plans to develop VR and AR classes, every graphic design student in the class of 2022 and on will graduate with experience in these areas, Wilson said.

While VR and AR are still fairly new concepts, products like the Google Glass and Oculus headsets are becoming increasingly relevant in the future of design. Wilson and Wright say they have seen firsthand how it is being used more often in game design, storytelling, marketing and even in real estate. 

With the use of a VR headset, architects can trade 2-D blueprints for an interactive 3-D world. VR can bring a building’s design to life, allowing potential buyers to immerse themselves in the finished product before the foundation is even laid. 

As graphic designers move from the classroom into the industry, Wright is hoping the use of VR and AR will inspire students to imagine a world beyond what seems possible in the present moment.

“It’s hard to teach how to think beyond what is possible, because we’re so used to having limitations in technology,” Wright said. “And this is a way to help students think beyond what is accessible to them right now. In 20 years, maybe the idea you have will be successful, so don’t give up hope right now.”

Illuminate Grants are awarded on an annual basis by the Center for Teaching Excellence to professors who propose the most creative and innovative learning updates for their classrooms. Grants range from $1,500 to $4,500. 

The center will be calling for proposals in the spring.

Madi Hirneisen is a News Reporter. Follow her on Twitter at @MadiHirneisen.

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