Steve Grubbs: Welcome everybody to the Victory XR podcast. I’m Steve Grubbs, the CEO of Victory XR, and today we have two great guests, two people I’ve gotten to know and am very excited to have on. First is Dan Mintz, who is the department chair for IT, Information Technology at the University of Maryland Global Campus. And then second is Andrew Sedillo, and Andrew is the instructional design lead at New Mexico State University, and he leads the digital learning, which falls under exactly what we do, which is immersive learning, particularly in a synchronous manner.
Both of these schools have digital twin campuses, which is interesting, because the University of Maryland global campus has no actual physical campus, we’ll talk a little bit about that. But also, both of these schools launched classes in the fall of 2022, and so we’re going to explore how that’s going, and try to learn some things as we move forward. So, Dan, let’s start with you, tell us first of all, what your role is at UMGC, and then talk a little bit about why you are involved with immersive learning.
Daniel Mintz: So, my day job is I’m in charge of an academic department, and my department is responsible for all the degree programs in information technology at the undergraduate and graduate level. So, that’s my day job. One of my programs has, for example, does web and digital design. The reason I mention that is, they have a certificate in how to create and used augmented and virtual reality objects.
We decided to build on that, and was given permission by our dean and the chief academic Officer to go ahead and set up a project to experiment with implementing augmented reality and virtual reality content across the university. And I’m in charge of that program, and we have a whole set of people who, as almost a volunteer second job level are putting together this program across the university.
Steve Grubbs: That’s awesome, Andrew good and talk a little bit about your role at New Mexico State, and then why you have chosen to get involved with immersive learning.
Andrew Sedillo: Yeah, so, I have a combination of two major roles that’s, um, related to immersive learning. So, I’m the instructional design lead for the digital learning team, and I oversee NMSU on demand, which is NMSU Workforce Development programs. So, what we do is we offer micro credentials about just pretty much anything that you can imagine. And for me, uh, especially working in corporate at my previous position. Immersive technology was definitely something that we were exploring, and I know a lot of organizations have started doing it as well for their learning and development programs to train their employees.
So, it’s was something that’s always been of interest to me within digital learning. Our Vice provost, Sherry Coleman, she was very much a big supporter of using some type of virtual reality learning within our programs in the future. So, what happened, was she came to us and talked to us about potentially purchasing Metaverse land, and Robbie Grant actually was the one who saw your presentation with Morehouse College in which the first digital twin campus where you all were able to demonstrate exactly what was being done there, and so, we took a big interest, because we saw the opportunity to then include it into some of our programming as well.
So, once we saw that, the rest is history, working with Victory XR, and then starting to then integrate the digital twin campus into our programs this fall. And then also my other side is I’m also an adjunct instructor for the ELT program as well, which is education, design, learning technology. And so, what we do is we’re basically educating future educators on how to integrate technology in their classroom. So, this was a win-win for everything, for me in both the areas in which I’m involved with.
Steve Grubbs: That’s awesome. And Dan, UMGC has a lot of students, can you tell us approximately how many online students you have currently?
Daniel Mintz: Well, I mean, all of our students take most of their classes online, so, a typical fall or spring, which are our largest semesters, we’ll have a head count of around 60,000 students, about half that in the summer. A small percentage of our classes are taught in what we call a hybrid, where one, they might get together one night a week in person, and then the rest of the week would be online. We also teach overseas, active doing military students and their families in Europe and Asia, in contract with the Department of Defense and with Veterans Administration to teach over thereBut the vast majority of our students are online, and of all the courses, stateside, it’s about 95% of our classes are online.
Steve Grubbs: So, what’s interesting is, UMGC, Western Governors, Liberty and a few others have really shown how this online model can work. And you look at the schools that are seeing most of the growth the last 15 years, it’s these big online schools as opposed to those that are strictly Drive to campus. So, talk to me about, and you and I have had this conversation, but talk to me about why you are pursuing this effort to integrate in some courses, virtual reality. And maybe if you could talk a little bit about the use cases specifically.
Daniel Mintz: Yeah, so, there’s two big reasons, one reason, there’s an educational component, I mean, obviously with this. So, there are things and activities you can do in the virtual environment that are either too expensive or too dangerous, or even impossible to do in a physical environment, let alone in an online environment. An example in fact, would be one of the projects we’re working with Victory XR is for our criminal justice classes, both criminal justice, and our forensic biology classes. I tell people, when we came up with this part of the project, that’s when I learned we had a forensic biology class.
But for that, we’re setting up a crime scene, where there’ll be a victim, blood spatters, potentially fingerprints, other clues that’ll be randomly generated, so, if they can do it multiple times with different setups. That’s something that would be almost impossible to do in any environment, so, there are educational experiences that an immersive environment can do, that you don’t get in just a pure online, where you’re reading text, or you’re interfacing with people in a Zoom session or something like that.
The second thing is, I think all the schools that have gone online find that most of the students are very happy with the flexibility and schedule they get, that allows them to control the timing of the education. But there is a segment of students that lose a certain connection with the educational process, and with the institution. And so, we think there’s a second component that will be true of all universities, or all educational institutions that are interfacing to their students online, where you get a much deeper relationship that comes into place, because it’s this virtual connection, the synchronous interaction.
Our first class, our speech 100 class, which did not inherently have immersive simulations or things like that. The feedback we got from our students was they had a much deeper relationship with the other students, which was an interesting result, a much deeper relationship with the faculty member felt much more connected to the educational process. So, those would be the two main reasons, both educational content, but also a relationship engagement issue that I think the online universities have to deal with.
Steve Grubbs: Got it, yeah, that makes a lot of sense. And Andrew, I’m not really familiar with how much online or remote learning there is at New Mexico State. Do you primarily use yours for students who are remote learners, or on campus learner?
Andrew Sedillo: Yeah, so this fall we actually used it for two remote learner situations. So, we actually have NMSU online, which we do have full online programs. And then part of the unit that I work for, which is the instructional design team as well, is what we’re doing is, we work with instructors which serve as our subject matter experts to enhance the learning experiences for our students. Especially for those who are transitioning from bringing their typical live courses into an online setting, that’s where virtual reality has been awesome.
My experience, I got to experience firsthand as the instructor, because it was actually in my class, as one of the courses that was part of this launch. So, just like what Dan said, I’ve taught for about over 5 years now as an adjunct, and my students are all remote, and this semester was so different, it felt different, especially when I would interact with my students.
Of course, we’d always do it through web conferencing, but actually having on our virtual reality headsets, our Meta Quest 2s, every week we’d meet for one hour every week, and we’d actually engage in this virtual space. And I felt that that social piece was so different, it actually felt that I was really meeting with my students one on one, that was a lot of feedback I received from them as well. Some of them have never even attended a course on main campus ever, and this was their first interaction with another student in that way, and they thought that it just enhanced their entire learning experience.
And then just like what Dan said, I mean, that connection between actually doing something, that thing was amazing. I’ve created online activities, where my students engage in discussions, where they complete actual assignments, where they even present through web conferencing, but I was able to actually create actual scenarios and learning experiences in which they can then go into, and actually do something, it was incredible, especially being someone who’s, they’re all going to be future teachers.
So, for example, one activity that I actually had them do was they presented within our digital twin campus an actual lesson that they would provide students in a real classroom. And we sat down, they went ahead, and they went through that entire lesson, and it gave them that experience that like Dan said, they never would be able to get, especially because it’s a 300 level course, and eventually they’re going to transition into more of a practicum, or courses in which they’re actually going to be in a practicum.
But this was a great way for them to actually practice, and then actually, and I was able to actually have conversations with them and coach them through things, unlike anything I’ve ever been able to do in an online space. So, that was just my experience that I’m talking on, but we also had another instructor, which is Gabby Phillips, and she taught a nutrition course also online, and it was actually a diet internship in which he was able to meet with students.
And the next semester we actually have an engineering course, and I’ll get the other name, but we have two courses launching again in spring, and we’re really excited about this opportunity to start working…