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The VictoryXR Show: Kiyan Shafieizadeh & Smita Singh Discuss Virtual Reality Use in Hospitality and Event Management Courses

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April 25, 2024 | Steve Grubbs


  • Steve Grubbs hosts the VictoryXR Show with guests, professors Kiyan Shafieizadeh and Smita Singh from MSU Denver’s School of Hospitality.
  • Kiyan Shafieizadeh teaches hotel management courses and has been using virtual reality in his classes since Spring 2023, focusing on creating memorable guest experiences and service recovery scenarios.
  • Smita Singh teaches event management courses and integrates virtual reality into her classes, emphasizing international collaboration, immersive experiences, and sustainability in event planning.
  • Both professors face challenges such as internet connectivity issues and student readiness, but they also receive positive feedback on the engaging and inclusive nature of virtual reality learning, envisioning broader adoption and awareness of virtual reality in the future.

Watch at https://youtu.be/6wpcmq-rwO8?si=MrDNoxRAXoTclKMh

Steve Grubbs: Welcome to the VictoryXR show. We have another great episode today, and we are coming to you from Denver, Colorado and We’ve been working with MSU Denver for about a year, maybe year and a half now, and so we have a couple of the professors who are experts in the field of hospitality first. We have Keyan Shafieizadeh and Keyan works specifically in the field of hotel management, then we have Smita Singh and Smita works also in Hospitality but more for events. So as you can guess in the world of simulation or scenario training, the possibilities of virtual reality are huge in the hospitality industry. so we’re going to get right into this kiyan and I should say they’re both a system professors that have Denver. I don’t know if I said that or not. So if I left something out feel free to fill that in but kiyan talk to us a little bit about the classes that you teach.

Kiyan Shafieizadeh: Hello, Thanks It’s my pleasure to join you today. So my name is Keyan Shafieizadeh. I’m an assistant professor in the school of hospitality at Metropolitan State University of Denver. So as Steve mentioned there are many potentials using virtual reality specifically in the hospitality field. MSU Denver is the first higher education institution in the state of Colorado using metaverse in different classrooms. And School of Art Vitality is one of the first at MSU Denver. So, as I said, there are different potentials for using metaverse technology in hospitality field. 

As Steve mentioned, I mainly teach hotel management courses. I also teach some general hospitality courses like marketing and sales quality service. So as I said our school was one of the first using metaverse technology then we decided using it Smita and I, we’re first two professors to faculty decided using it our classrooms. So I started using metaverse technology in Spring of 2023 and then I’m too using it this semester as well. 

So I use it in my Quality Service leadership class. So in this class, we mainly teach students how to provide a memorable experience for the guests, when they’re visiting different hospitality companies. And then I was thinking, How I can use this one? What is the best way of using this technology? As I said, for faculty, we are still learning that let’s see learning about different potentials of technology and thanks to VictoryXR for all of those trainings that you provide before using this.

So then after that, I learned about different opportunities, then I try to incorporate these technology into my classrooms. For example, for the first semester that I use that I was using it in a few modules. Then now. I’m adding more modules and then using it in different aspects. And as students nowadays new generations, they love technology whenever you say that I’m using this technology. They will pay more attention, I believe to the class. And all about this about the way that I want to you.

Steve Grubbs: I think that.

Kiyan Shafieizadeh: I’m using it if you want to answer if you want me to ask.

Steve Grubbs: Yeah, we’ll dig a little deeper in just a couple minutes, but one of the interesting things to me is that there is such a thing as hospitality. So, first of all when I was young, I think maybe in high school or something, and I first learned that somebody could study hospitality. I thought to myself You can learn to run a hospital. That seems like a good deal. And later, I figured out that hospitality even, though root word hospital is actually in the hotel and service industry, but obviously very important. So talk to us Smita about your focus in the hospitality industry with your classes.

Smita Singh: Yes and thank you Steve for providing this opportunity. I think it has been a pleasure to work along with you in past one year down the line. So I teach event management courses within school and I’ve integrated the metaverse into one of my classes which is called AS Global meeting and events. Basically, this class focuses upon traveling to different events in different parts of the world. And as we know because of travel restrictions or because of the funds that everything people unable to travel. Previously virtual reality was one of the things which was being used but meta was given that it is so immersive. You can create an avatar. You can still involve yourself in the meta environment or the immersive environment. I think it has proved to be an engaging technology.

I have been able to train students for using metaverse initially and this is the first step that we usually follow before even students actually join a classes, So there are certain kind of we make sure that we make it pretty inclusive. So we always provide students with options like those who want to use the metaverse is great. If not, then also they can use it and go to these kind of events using the laptops because ENGAGE has been pretty encouraging for them because it has different platforms through which you can engage with environment itself, So that is the first part that we do in the class. The second part is if there’s some videos or if there’s some other things that can be integrated into the environment itself, that will be great. So this is what we have done before other than this recently we collaborated with where one of the professors along with the students. She was able to join in the medical environment. And we used our digital twin MSU Denver campus as one of the spots various our students can also join so it had sounded like a great collaboration opportunity because previously it was not possible.

Just imagine my students around 20 number joining a different environment and her students were able to join from the same environment and it was a great collaboration that we did. So it is a learning curve for me. I’m trying to explore various ways that we can do it and I try to involve a lot of students into research work as well. Recently, they submitted a case study on the use of metaverse and how sustainability can be integrated into into one of the underground resources and again, students inspired for it. I say that they love technology a lot and they love to play. It is very different as compared to traditional formats that we have been using. So I definitely encourage all the instructors to do it because it is great for the instructors also to take a break from the traditional format of lecturing and looking forward to something into the metaverse back.

Steve Grubbs: Yeah, I couldn’t agree more. We see this across the board not just in hospitality, but in history and engineering and so many other fields verticals college. So Keyan, let’s drill down a little bit deeper in what some of the practical use cases are for using virtual reality in hotel management but also talk in terms of whether it’s asynchronous or synchronous whether it’s single-player multiplayer and the role of a professor or instructor in what you do.

Kiyan Shafieizadeh: Yeah, that’s a great question. So the way that I’m using the metaverse technology is that for the event we start the semester. So students first of all on the syllabus, they see that there’s some virtual reality elements on the syllabus. So my role as a faculty for the first few weeks of the semester is to teach students how to use the technology. So there are some trainings that you provide for students as well in addition to instructors. So what I do in the first few weeks of semester the week too they check out their Oculus they take it home and they have the Oculus for the whole semester.

So what I asked students to do for the first four weeks is to go through different types of training. So we created a guideline for the training so they have to log into the ENGAGE, they have to create their avatar. Then they have to join some events and then start going through those trainings that we tricks are provides then after that after that and that I had the end the first assignment of the class is to a join an event in virtual reality and even that they have to record themselves take a selfie in the event and then they submitted online on campus and then I go through their submissions. And also I asked them to write a reflection. 

So then as I said, I’m also learning what are some challenges that they might have and they’re trying to use the technology. Then I go through all of those submissions and then make sure that everyone is ready to use the metaverse technology before I use it in the classroom, right? And then as Smita mentioned so some students they might not feel comfortable using the Oculus all the time when we are using it. So I give students the option to join in browser, So they log into their ENGAGEaccount. they are still in the session but not in like you so they have that option as well. And so after that they complete these trainings then we start using different modules and going through different models. I always have a guest in the virtual reality environment. I use, Steve, if you remember you joined my class as well as the guest speaker then we give students some kind of tours. So they have an opportunity if let’s say to see visit different hotels different facilities if they are contents available in the virtual reality environment. 

Then, after that for example from my quality service class, I have an assignment. I call it service failure scenario. So I divide students into different groups and then each group they have to write a service failure scenario because one of the topics that I cover in my class is service failure and service recovery. Then I assign every single service failure scenario to one group. They have no idea. So one group is service provider other students in the class are guests so you develop those content you develop the hotel or restaurant. And last semester, I had a student they could pick Hotel restaurant for the environment. 

So then there are some customers which are students. They are complaining about something. There’s some service failure happening and then I asked one group for students, four five students to go over all of those service recovery strategies that we covered in class and then we record this sessions. And then I always ask students feedback at the end of semester.

 I’m working on a research project. So is Smita as well. So we are interviewing our students to get their feedback about their metaphors experience, So we ask how is this experience? What is the value of using this? And then one of the most important thing that students they mention is that they feel safe. It’s a more inclusive environment when they are in the metaverse, virtual reality environments, so they can be themselves. They can easily type with other students with other people in the classroom. So that was the main, I think, advantage of using the metaverse technology and you cannot believe, For example, in that service failure scenario that I have some students that day, usually they do not talk in the classroom, but they are completely different students in the virtual reality environment. They are active, they talk to other students, they interact with other students and they are really enjoying the environment.

Steve Grubbs: We hear that over and over as well because that fear of failure, that fear of asking questions, is significantly lessened for whatever the reason in virtual reality and metaverse learning. One of the things that we are working on and deploying literally as we speak is our AI conversational Avatar. So we believe that you’re going to be able to integrate these AI customers in and have conversations with them about some problem or challenge that they face when they checked in or in the room or whatever the case might be. So we think that for the scenario role play that will allow students to do it without the need of having other students in there if that becomes a scheduling problem. So it’s Go.

Kiyan Shafieizadeh: And then I think I forgot to answer your question, the way that the first semester that I was using at students. They were in the classroom. So all of us we were joining the virtual reality environment in the classroom, but then I realized there’s some challenges with a student, when they’re talking they can hear each other in the classroom. And then for one module I divided students some of them they went to another environment because we have a hotel attached to the department. They went to our ballroom and some student, they joined from there. But still there are some challenges. Then this semester whenever I’m using the metaverse technology, students, they join remotely so they join from home from where they want. And then this is a much much better experience this semester.

Steve Grubbs: We find that the students joining remotely, people can think of potential challenges but it seems to work almost flawlessly because everybody has their own dedicated Wi-Fi, you don’t have to worry about getting through firewalls. It’s just a very good experience that way and frankly the professors enjoy remaining in their office during that last time instead of heading over the lecture hall or whatever the case might be. So Smita talk to us. Let’s drill down with you as well. What are some specific ways that you’re deploying role playing scenario training in virtual reality?

Smita Singh: Definitely and thank you Steve and thank you Keyan for providing those insights. So basically the procedure is still the same because initially when we were trying to adopt this kind of technology, we were little bit concerned about how students will react to it, but somehow the reaction was pretty positive. And so the procedure is still the same wherein what we do is we have our internal guidelines, which was created by one of these and we do take help of our teaching assistants as well because these are the people who have been trained before and they are well connected with other students also, right? So if there’s a growing positive with the TA then they say the metaverse is something that you can look forward for I think students listen to them more and say like that. So definitely we have our TAs who can help us out in order to integrate this technology.

We invited one of the Trainers initially Eric Mason to the classes. So at least he can train the students as well as us in how to use it step by step. So that is the first step that we do,  once students are very comfortable with it. Definitely. I give them some exercises or assignments which are related to the Avatar creation or maybe joining an event online. Write how they can do it whether they are able to do it or not. What are the challenges and how we can rectify all those challenges. So those are handled in the class.

So that is the first step as we move on further with different courses, especially with global meeting and events. I’ve been doing it with reference to some cross collaboration with other universities where in some professors or students who can be invited into the same environment or to a digital twin with MSU Denver. That is the second step that we are doing other than this. We also try a lot so that we can get collaborated with a lot of Asian universities. So recently one of the Indian Universities approached me and they told me they would love to have that kind of like a cross collaboration with the students in the same environment and I was like, okay, let me figure it out for the next semester itself. So this is what the power looks like. The third one is with global meeting and events because it’s all about that international traditions, international events and everything. So I try to look forward for certain kind of videos which can be integrated into the environment which or  wherein I can invite some guest speakers from other universities as well who can train them and just talk about their culture as well. I think these are three ways which I’m using it right now. 

I’m trying to explore it in different ways as well because I was talking about the case study previously five minutes back wherein we have some undergrad students who are looking forward to doing a case study wherein it can be a sustainable event, which can be designed in the same environment online and wherein you have a score sheet or something wherein students can know what are the impacts of it? What are the non-sustainable and sustainable products which can be used in event planning. So that is the next step that I’m looking out for sure in order to involve students into it to make it more immersive but these are the ways which we have been doing it over all the guidelines which were made by our School itself. They were pretty good enough, even the trainings are effective and as Keyan said to make it more inclusive so that we don’t and we have to take care of student accommodations that is a prime role as instructors. We give them different opportunities to go on this environment and ENGAGE itself has been pretty helpful with this because even if you are not joining through metaverse, you can join us online and still they are involved still they know what exactly is going on.

Steve Grubbs: Yeah.

Smita Singh: So this is the way it has been implemented in my classes.

Steve Grubbs: And you’re primarily submitted using Quest 2 metaquest 2 headset,…

Smita Singh: Yes, yes.

Steve Grubbs: and does the University provide every student a headset or do some students show up with their own VR headsets.

Smita Singh: No, so we already have around Keyan, if I’m not wrong, we have 40 Oculus right? Roughly.

Kiyan Shafieizadeh: We have 40 Oculus.

Smita Singh: What? So we have around 40 Outlets with us.

Kiyan Shafieizadeh: Yes. It’s an older school has 40 Oculus.

Smita Singh: So altogether, what we do is some accounts have been created to the user ID and password. So we keep on swapping those things semester to semester and we try to give one Oculus to each student. So at least they’re involved. There’s some students who are little bit hesitant because all together they don’t want to involved with the metaverse, but they just love to be in that ENGAGE environment. So we give them all opportunities whatever way it works for them. as Keyan said already that we are doing the research work with students, so soon that publication will be out and we will try a level best to share with the instructors and with the entire education community. What are the challenges and how you can rectify and look forward for the opportunities of using metaverse in the classes. So that will be pretty helpful. I think for all the instructors who are just thinking about how to use it and what challenges they can face so that they are well prepared for future.

Steve Grubbs: So Keyan, you said earlier that you are doing end of semester surveys of students on their reaction. What have you seen from those surveys on things? Are they generally receptive to it and there’s some challenges that we need to keep working on?

Kiyan Shafieizadeh: Smita does the same thing we try to get students feedback through that quality some interviews with students and also the survey that they sent to students. So I want to talk about I think one of the main challenges for using metaverse technology or some technical challenges like having a strong Wi-Fi. If you’re using it on campus or if you’re home, you have to make sure that your Wi-Fi is strong enough for you to join the session, for example. Before spring break two weeks ago I was using the technology to a student they couldn’t join just because of their internet. So I think that’s the main challenge. Also, we have some non-traditional students in our programs. Some of those non non-traditional students they need, I can say we need to spend more time with them to make sure that they are ready to use it some of them. They need some kind of training. That’s why having a TA is very helpful. So we have one or one sessions with some students to make sure that they’re ready to use it whenever we are using it or if they can join remotely date decide to come on campus and then we make sure that we are with them whenever they need help joining the session I think.

These are some challenges. This type of training not only for any type of technology that you want to use in the classroom. You will have these types of challenges and then some feedback that we always received from a student is to make sure that they add value to a student’s learning experience. We don’t want to use virtual reality just to use it as soon as they want to see their value. For example, if you want to invite a guest speaker why the speaker cannot join via teams, You have to make sure to bring something to the table. Then you have a guest speaker, for example, and these semester I had a guest speaker that we had a lecture then a tour. So different elements all together so that they want to see that value when you’re using it all.

 So I think another feedback that I received from a student as you mentioned as well as Steve in hospitality, many hospitality companies are using virtual reality technology in their business for their training purposes. And so some tourism destinations, they offer visual tours to motivate people to go and visit their hotels to even visit their destination. Right, so something that students are learning here, for example, in my class is not only about guest service. They are also learning about the potentials of using virtual reality in the future life in the future carrier how they want to incorporate these visual reality in if they own a business some of them they own a business. So how they can use it for their training purposes as well. 

Right because I received great feedback and it’s interesting some student. They give you some feedback the way that you could use it. For example, I teach a course it’s name is hotel industry phantom fundamentals. So I’m working on the modules. I’m trying to use the metaverse technology to teach students for example different departments of the hotel housekeeping front desk so you can have these types of scenarios and you can teach students in the virtual environment how they can make it back. For example, right how they can interact with guests if they have a valet in their hotel, if they have a front desk, if you’re working the other front desk, so there are different opportunities here. And then students they provide great feedback. So I see this opportunities what if you use this one for this specific purpose or for this specific topic in the classroom. So I always mentioned to students whenever you have the articles for one semester make sure to use it. You have an ENGAGE, which is not free. If you’re not taking this class, you cannot have access to all of these different contents, So I want to make sure for them to spend some extra times when they have Oculus at home in addition to my class sessions. They have some time to spend on learning that the technology as well.

Steve Grubbs: That’s wonderful.

Kiyan Shafieizadeh: And then yeah and then going back to your question our students. We have 40 Oculus and then we make sure that we use it for two classes. Currently you want to make sure that we don’t have 40 more than 40 students in two classes. We have a cap. So every single student they get their Oculus and they take it home and then we have it. Another thing that I want to mention to other people other faculty that they might want to consider using this you have to have support from your University. We get a great support from our University. So sometimes they ask us you want? What else we can have help you to create a better experience for students? I think that supported element is very important as well because you will get some complaints from students as well, at least in the first few weeks, because they have some challenges. I cannot log in. I cannot do this. I cannot do this. You cannot be successful unless you have the support.

Steve Grubbs: I think that’s really great advice. Smita you get the last question here. Quick hit what is your best hope for the future of using this technology in your class?

Smita Singh: So, as we are proceeding further, definitely we are looking out for more engaging opportunities, whereas students can still join the environment and they can create an environment for themselves as well. For example, in order to create a sustainable event or something if there’s some props or something which can be used. So at least students can be aware about and how could they can utilize it? Maybe create a digital setup just to let their customers know about it. That can also be one thing that I’m looking forward for with reference to other things. I think I know the metaverse has been discussed a lot with the training aspect related to various fields, especially with hospitality.

And I can still feel that people are not aware about the technology. So awareness is a must go for sure because when I was doing one of the research work with one of the students and it was all about the event planners like these sustainable aspects and it was all about what they think about the metaverse for future. To be very honest, looking forward for collaborating with some people who are not even aware about the term which is called as metaverse. Right and then they were asking about the definitions of it. Although it forms a better version of the virtual reality part, but I still feel that this should go on a different level on a platform wherein people are aware about the phrase itself and they can talk about it comfortably. So as of now I can see the industry is not well prepared. But given that the initiatives that are taken by you Steve and other people who are in the same air environment and they’re planning to do a lot of things. I think this can go to a different level, but it will require some time for sure.Steve Grubbs: Yeah, I’ll wrap up by just saying this: MSU Denver is one of the true innovators, the pioneers in this effort, and thank you Kiyan and Smita for leading this effort to our listeners and viewers. I just want to say that you can learn more about MSU Denver in the link. We will provide with this broadcast and we look forward to having you join us next week for another great show with that.

Steve Grubbs is the CEO of VictoryXR, the global leader in immersive, spatial education. He is a graduate of the University of Iowa’s colleges of business and law and served in the Iowa Legislature as Chair of the House Education Committee in the early ‘90’s.