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The VictoryXR Show: UMGC Forensics Team

Steve Grubbs: Welcome to the VictoryXR Show. I am your host, Steve Grubbs. And today, we have really an amazing show because we are finally rolling out the CSI lab. If you like the show or one of the many CSI shows, now is your chance to actually go on to a crime scene without a real dead person, just a virtual reality dead person and be that investigator. And to do it the right way—anybody my age remembers the whole O. J. Simpson trial and how that really brought CSI crime scene investigation to the forefront. Doing it correctly, otherwise you lose your case. 

So, we have two professors from the university of Maryland global campus with us today, Susan Blankenship and Justin Baumgartner. And they guided the creation of this based on the curriculum they teach to students on their global campus, working with the VictoryXR team of modelers, encoders and curriculum specialists. So, putting it all together, we are going to tell you about really an amazing move forward in the world of teaching CSI. 

So, Susan, thank you for joining us. If you don’t mind just telling us a little bit about your background, I mean, what you do as professor. 

Susan Blankenship: Absolutely. Thanks Steve so much for having us on. We’re very excited about this product and the VR capabilities. 

So, as Steve said, my name is Susan Blankenship. And my background, I spent 12 years. No, I’m sorry. 16 years as a forensic scientist. Many years on the bench performing drug analysis but also 12 years as a crime scene investigator in conjunction with that and performing a wide variety of forensic science tests testifying in court, doing all the things that you think about when you think of the CSI shows. 

But also writing a lot of reports because report writing is a huge part of forensic science that they never show on TV because it’s not exciting. I have a bachelor’s degree in chemistry, a master’s of forensic science, a doctorate in public safety management, and I am a board-certified forensic scientist. 

Steve Grubbs: That is way too much learning for me. I stopped at two degrees and that was too much. All right, that’s awesome. Before we move to Justin, you teach a course currently at UMGC?

Susan Blankenship: I teach many courses currently at UMGC. So, I have yet to teach the course with the crime scene VR, but I do teach the crime scene investigation class. Right now, I’m teaching a class on fingerprint analysis and identification. I teach a variety of criminalistics or forensic science classes, including introduction and survey courses and the firearms in addition to the crime scene investigation and the fingerprint class. 

Steve Grubbs: Well, you are exactly the type of expert that should be helping us build out investigation in virtual reality. Thank you for that. 

Susan Blankenship: Absolutely. 

Steve Grubbs: Justin Baumgartner, tell us a little bit about yourself. 

Justin Baumgartner: I’m not a forensic scientist, however, I have a previous retired career in policing. I started off as a state trooper, went to a local municipality, worked as a patrol officer, community liaison officer, became a detective at some point. 

I was lucky enough to do some pretty amazing investigations in the state of Colorado. Someone bribed me to move up in supervision, which was always an amazing opportunity. We had the most exposure to various crimes scenes. And for the size of my department, we processed the majority of them in house. We were the ones that were doing the blood analysis. We were identifying fingerprints, removing those, doing the DNA processing, sending them to a crime labs. But a lot of that initial investigatory work fell on our organization within our ranks. 

My academic work started off as psychology for my undergraduate, and then I realized I liked the policing criminal justice stuff. So I had the dual degree, went with a master’s in police administration and security administration, and then my PhD work was in public policy administration, focusing on terrorism and training for active shooter response and how to really engage the academics in all of our public private partnerships. 

So, we were able to have a lot of these connections on various levels and found myself at UMGC after retirement from law enforcement, and we’re working as professors in public safety and criminal justice. 

Steve Grubbs: Awesome. And do you mind if I ask which community in Colorado you worked out of? 

Justin Baumgartner: So it was the city of Glendale. It’s a square mile city that’s completely surrounded by the city and county of Denver. It’s its own city, part of a different county. However, anything that happened in the larger metropolitan area always fell into our little community, and it required a lot of response and a lot of investigatory applications. 

Steve Grubbs: Mostly for worse, Colorado is very famous for a couple of very big crimes and so I would think that Colorado would lead the country in trying to figure these things out with mass shootings and the whole Jonbenet Ramsey crime. So it’s very interesting to have someone from Colorado on. So thank you for joining us. 

Justin Baumgartner: Absolutely, thank you for having us. 

Steve Grubbs: Susan, let’s talk about… would you contrast and I know that you haven’t taught with the VR product yet, but we just finished it recently, so I wouldn’t have expected you to. But talk a little bit about how you teach CSI today and how the ability to be immersed in it will make a difference in the learning process. 

Susan Blankenship: So, UMGC, University of Maryland Global Campus, we are a mostly online university and we literally teach students mostly from the US military around the world. 

So being mostly online limits the practical applications of crime scene investigation. And crime scene investigation is one of those items that is best taught by doing. You can read about presumptive blood testing or presumptive drug testing or fingerprint identification. You can read and read and read about it, but until you actually do it, it’s hard to comprehend how it actually all works. And it goes back to muscle memory as you’re doing it. 

The absolute worst place to learn how to do any of this stuff is on an actual crime scene because then you have the possibility of screwing up a prosecution. 

So at the moment in the “Normal online classes,” for instance, to photograph the crime scene; we have the students create a crime scene in their residence or an area where they control that they can then photograph and write a report about. 

With the VR, we can immerse them in one of these crime scenes and they can take their photographs in there and practice the good traits of crime scene photography. Taking your overview shots, your middle range shots, your close-up shots of any evidence with and without evidence markers, and making sure you capture the entire crime scene as you photograph it. 

We can’t have the students practice drug identification or presumptive blood testing. “Is that red spot really blood?” Well, let’s test and find out. Well, we can’t do that in a normal online environment. We can do that in VR, which is just the most amazing thing.

When you talk about a traditional university, a brick and mortar university, as we tend to call them, many of them have a crime scene house and the crime scene houses are great and they can practice some of that stuff there. The limitation with that is every student gets the exact same scene because there’s only so many scenes you can create. 

The wonderful thing about the VR scene is number one; Well, there are five of them now, and I know your modelers are working to kind of modify the scene so that we can move some of the deceased people around or we can change some of their characteristics, which changes up the scene for the students. But also, the lab reports that come back on these, one is a hanging victim, well, is that a suicide or a murder? Well, the lab reports that come back can change that. 

So you could have two students with the exact same crime scene and different outcomes. So this VR capability just is amazing for the possibilities it gives our students. 

Steve Grubbs: There’s so much I want to respond to, and I’ll be brief because I want to get to Justin’s, not my show. But first of all, one of the things you said is what we say a lot about our work VictoryXR is the place where online education intersects with hands on learning, which is the big piece that’s been missing. Online remote learning is exploding. You look at what you guys are doing and western governors and southern New Hampshire, all these schools, it’s exploding, but you don’t have that hands on learning, and in some cases it’s so important. 

So that’s the first response. The other thing is, no American wants to get on a plane where the pilot has not completed, first, the written learning material. Second, their simulation training, because how did Captain Sully Sullenberger learn to land a plane when both his engines were out? It wasn’t in real life. It was through a simulator. So that’s what you guys have built with our team is this middle part before you actually have to go into real life. So I just think that is so important. 

So Justin, obviously, you’ve really done a fair amount of this in the real world. And what is your hope when you teach this? What is your hope that the simulation can deliver to students and just talk a little bit about how you intend to deploy it when you teach? 

Justin Baumgartner: Well, a couple of things to circle back on. There is a concept out there that the body cannot go where the mind hasn’t been. So we can create these repetitions early on by identifying what the current field practices are within the profession. We can simulate those to have your mind run through these analysis, to run through these objectives, so when you’re out in the field, you feel more confident to do the job. 

As Susan was saying, being on a crime scene, having the first analysis, the first investigation is terrifying because if you make these minor mistakes, they will become major issues down the road three, four, five years when you’re in court testifying to what you did today. You don’t want to make those mistakes. However, we’re all human, we will make those mistakes. But the confidence level going into some of these crime scenes can shift from, this is the first time being exposed to any of this to I’ve seen it, I’ve had these discussions. I feel good about going in and doing the job that’s necessary to provide the evidence to a case that could provide guilt or innocence down the road.

It’s all very important. As for imploring these or developing the opportunity for student success, we talked about online engagement and the traditional online school, which is usually you post content, there’s reflection on the content, there’s discussion on the content through two dimensional forums. I’ll post something, you’ll reply to it. I will grade whatever you reply to. 

Virtual reality creates further academic depth in the online learning environment. Now, we can have conversations in these environments that we build with instructors, synchronously, or we can expand that to have individuals go in on their own, have the repetitions, understand the failures, see the successes, and feel very confident moving forward as they continue on their academic practice. 

Steve Grubbs: Before you move on, let’s break that down. When you say synchronously, it’s a little bit of jargon, maybe not everybody knows what you mean by that. Can you break that down a little bit further? 

Justin Baumgartner: Absolutely. So, we’re in discussions of developing further spaces that we can bring in instructors and students all together at the exact same time and go through these processes in the virtual world.  

Asynchronous, we separate it. You can go in on your own time, and you can be able to go through these steps, these processes on your own, and get the repetitions individually at 1:00 AM, 2:00 AM, 3:00 PM, whatever your time zone is, and you can still have the same academic exposure. 

Steve Grubbs: The ideal is to have the same crime scene with the option of doing either asynchronous single player or synchronous multiplayer. 

Justin Baumgartner: And having the support. 

Steve Grubbs: Absolutely. And I know I stopped you there, but I want you to keep going. But I want to expand on a couple of things here. So in this environment, the students can go in—and I know that part of our roadmap is to make this a performative assessment. 

Now, being a mere mortal, these terms were a mystery to me. There are these different types of assessments that the curriculum specialists all talk about. So, if you’re filling in little dots on a multiple choice A, B, C, or D, they consider that to be like the lowest level of assessment. That’s like for the cavemen. 

And then you work to different types, maybe, an essay question is a higher level than the fill in the dots, but the highest level, they say, is when your test is actually you doing what you need to know, whether it’s repairing an airplane or CSI or whatever. And everything that you get correct is recorded in your assessment, so that at the end, you did it 80%, 90%, 100% correct. You want to talk a little bit about that as professors? And, Justin, I’ll let you finish this, and then, Susan, I’d like you to pick up on that. 

Justin Baumgartner: I think Susan would be phenomenal at talking about the knowledge, skills, abilities, and dispositions that we have for each one of our classes to make sure that we’re hitting these marks. Something I just would like to touch on is, this is the cutting edge of academics. And I was told early on in my career by a city manager, “You always want to be on the cutting edge, never on the bleeding edge.”

So, we are defining how to have these extensions to make sure that these marks are hit, to show that we’re still going back to our learning objectives and to really expand our opportunities for our student base. 

Steve Grubbs: Awesome. Susan? 

Susan Blankenship: Yes. So, you are correct that we have been discussing the performative measures of the crime scene, what students are doing, and the hope is that eventually the final exam, per say, for this class is a double. 

Half of it is, how well did you do in your final crime scene? When you went in and you did your examination, did you remember your gloves? Did you remember to test all of the possible blood stains? Did you remember to do everything you’re supposed to do? Did you collect all the evidence and did you collect it correctly? 

With the other half being the report writing part? Because, as I said earlier, although it’s not shown much in media, and for me, the show wasn’t CSI, for me, the show was Quincy. But Quincy never wrote a report either. Yes, I’m showing my age there a little bit, but the report writing is so very important. 

So the other half of the final exam would be a written report on what the student did in the crime scene. Which is one of the reasons we’ve worked with your people, with the designers, to make sure that the students when they take photographs, they can get that offline, so they can use the photographs that they took of the scene, not only to submit those to the professor to show, I know how to take photographs at a crime scene. I know how to document through photography, the crime scene, but also to assist them in writing the reports that they have to write, which if you go to a crime scene in the real world, you write a report. One goes with the other. 

So it’s performative, but it’s also evaluative and it also will demonstrate to an employer this is what I can do. And yes, maybe it was a simulation that I did it in, but I have this experience and I could do it more than once. 

Steve Grubbs: That’s awesome. That’s very interesting, of course. I will tell you, I did not realize that we were building in the ability to print off the photos offline, so that’s even better. 

So. Let’s sort of move to the next. Let’s talk about the actual… I mean, a lot of people listening are saying, “Well, this is awesome, but our students don’t have VR headsets, blah, blah, blah…” And I think that’s worth discussing. And one little bit of news, it’s a bit speculative, but all the leaks coming out suggest that, of course, Meta came out with their new Quest 3 to the public last week, and in 2024, they’re coming out with a new VR headset that’s better than the Quest 2, but perhaps significantly less expensive than the Quest 2. 

And so, that really opens it up to, there are other headsets that are more expensive that might have a better fit in different places, but we all have been wanting a really affordable 6-Dof headset for the market. So, talk a little bit about access to headsets and how we’re dealing with it now and how we hope to deal with it in the future. Either one of you. 

Susan Blankenship: Do you want to take this, Justin, or do you me to…? 

Justin Baumgartner: I can. absolutely. 

Susan Blankenship: Take it. 

Justin Baumgartner: Part of our VR process right now, it’s a pilot that we have being one of the first ten Metaverses available. So we’re the first of ten, right? Again, cutting edge, not the bleeding edge. We’re trying to get ahead of a lot of this technological advancement to make it the best option for our student success. 

We do have partnerships as of right now in our pilot program where we will ship headsets. There has to be an agreement with these students that they will return them and that they are not going to have any significant damage by any means. But they are shipped to the student. The student has access through the entire course. They’re sent a return address label after the course concludes, we’re sending it back: sterilizing, rebooting, wiping out the current data so it’s ready for the next student’s course that they’re taking. 

Steve Grubbs: What’s interesting is I saw data, and actually this data, I think, came from UMGC, that somewhere between seven and 10% of existing students have their own headsets at home. So, if you’re a university like Western Governors with 130,000 students, then that means you’re going to have 10,000 to 15,000 students who already have them. And at UMGC, I think you guys have 60 to 70,000 students in that range, something like that, which would mean that you guys would have 5000 to 7000 students who already have their own headsets. 

So this issue, it reminds me of when I was in college, Susan, and I was the very first guy, very first person on my dorm floor to have a personal computer. Everybody else had to trudge over to the computing center, but I had a Commodore 64. But by the time I got out of law school, not everybody had computers but I would say at least half, if not two thirds of the law school class had their own personal computers at home. 

So, this problem resolves itself pretty quickly once you create demand through more content and curriculum. And so, I think, I’m hoping that UMDC and others will be able to very soon just say, “Okay, here’s a completely online CSI course you can sign up for. Here is a CSI course that requires a virtual reality headset. Only sign up for this one if you’re going to have access to a VR headset.” 

And I bet at that point they call their parents and say, “Hey listen, I’m sorry, but I’ve got to buy a VR headset.” And that’s what I did to my dad. “Hey Dad, I need a computer.” So anyway, what are your thoughts on sort of that growth growing into the technology? Susan, why don’t you take this one. 

Susan Blankenship: Actually, sorry Steve, but Justin’s expertise lies more in the tech part of it and the VR. He’s been in VR for a lot longer than I have. And he has some ideas that he’s been talking about at the university, so I’m going to let him take this. 

Steve Grubbs: Awesome. 

Justin Baumgartner: We have some ideas, yes. Virtually enhanced courses. So you can take what you’re used to and we do offer hybrid courses as well, where you can be on site during four days out of the eight weeks, and there’s still the interaction with the professor. We have the completely online, which is bread and butter for UMDC, we’re able to have our global reach. 

And then we are having this pilot, which is that virtual reality enhancement, to have these engagements with professors in a virtual space. And then we’re doing the academics to include the process of CSI, and we have an astronomy class and several others that are running as well. The technology will catch up, and as it’s catching up, it will become more available globally. We understand that. 

The downside is there is this current fear every time a new product comes to market from a larger entity such as Apple, who is producing a new VR experience next year, I believe, for an amount of money that is outside of most budget, rather expensive. So when you’re constantly being seeing these promotions of expensive headsets, it reduces the likelihood of wanting to enter into this space to see what the opportunities are. 

As we continue to see the advancements in all areas, that price will come down and it’ll be more accessible for every student that wants to be able to have these experiences, and the justification is going to be there. 

Steve Grubbs: And I think that good news out of these leaks, which the Meta folks have not denied these leaks. Really, I think, is the next level where we win the day. And really the question is, can we have enough content ready to go? And we were able to demo with Meta at EDUCAUSE in Chicago last week, which is probably the top higher education ed tech conference in the United States. 

They built this beautiful, expensive booth all around our chemistry lab because it was mixed reality, it was pass through. And for people who might not understand all these terms, essentially with the Quest Three that just came out, it’s $500, we could see everybody around us. If somebody’s entering class, leaving class, whatever, we could see everybody. But then in front of me were these test tubes and beakers, and we were mixing cabbage juice with bleach and then cabbage juice with lemon juice and cabbage use with other liquids. And then there was a chart in front of you where you would take the new liquid, the mixed liquid, and measure it against the PH color chart. 

But here was what was really cool. The pass-through vision was so good that in front of us was sitting a tablet in the real world and a pen in the real world. And then we were writing down the answers to the PH. So then at the end, I tore off my sheet, I handed it in, and I got an A. And so…Thank you. 

So, the point being is in CSI, if we want to do mixing and you want to be in the same room, if you’re remote, VR is just fine. But if you are in the same room, being able to see each other, it makes a big difference. And so all of that coming together I think is really cool. 

So let’s wrap up with a final question for both of you. Susan, you’re clearly the curriculum expert here. I figured this out. Talk to me about, you know, we’ve got five units done. Where is it that you want to take the content as we move forward? 

Susan Blankenship: So, there are a couple of different directions. So, the one is adding the variety I was talking about earlier, changing a few aspects of each scene so that we can send three students into the same house and all three of them have a slightly different experience as they’re in there, which would be amazing and awesome. And would really add… 

Justin was talking about academic depth. If they all have kind of a different scene that they can report back to each other on, that’s wonderful, because that way you don’t have three people reporting on the exact same scene with the exact same results and the exact same experience.

The other part is something that we’ve been talking to the VictoryXR people about, and that is expanding the crime lab capabilities. Right now, in the scenes, you can develop the fingerprint. Great! What happens to that fingerprint after that? Where does it go? What’s the experience of a fingerprint examiner after that fingerprint has been lifted? 

We’ve also been talking about a firearms identification lab, so that one of the scenes is a gunshot wound victim. One of the projectiles, one of the bullets is specifically left inside the body, so that in autopsy it can be recovered. Well, what happens to that bullet? How do you examine that, and how do you identify the firearm it came from? Which is just an amazing experience. 

We’ve talked about bloodstain pattern analysis, which you can use to determine what happened in that scene. So, there are ways of expanding this in the KSAs I’m talking about, being able to do bloodstain pattern analysis, being able to figure out what happened at the crime scene from the investigation, the fingerprints, those are all KSAs that most of the crime scene investigator jobs across the United States are asking for, are requiring to get a job as a crime scene investigator. So these are all such important aspects for VictoryXR to have as part of this experience. 

Steve Grubbs: Well, and we have a five-year commitment to building the world’s biggest and greatest CSI lab anywhere. And with this start, I’m confident we can keep achieving it. My job as CEO is to keep everybody paid, so I got to make sure we’re selling some of these licenses. 

Susan Blankenship: Absolutely, absolutely. 

Steve Grubbs: But I’m confident we can. And because of that, every semester we’ll roll out another iteration, another addition to the building, if you will. 

So, Justin, you’re obviously approaching this a little different. Talk to us a little bit. Where do you see it going, and what are your best hopes over the next, say, 24 months? 

Justin Baumgartner: Well, a couple of things to hit on is this thing is advancing. There is a version 1.0, a version 2.0 where we’re at today, version 3.0 where we want to be at tomorrow, and it is only getting better. Some of the things that we’re having these conversations about consistently is, do we have the subject matter expertise to make it as real as possible for the student to be exposed to what they would in the field of forensics? 

The second conversation is, how do we make this world and this experience as academically appropriate and make sure that the learning environment is in the right space for the student to excel? 

For the most part, courses are set up to hit checkboxes. I need to hit this objective to move on to this space, to be able to hit this objective to get my final grade. And version 1.0 was, I need to do one to get to two to get to three. 

The advancement where we’re is I am in this environment. I feel as though I’m in this environment. I hear fire crackling from a fireplace when I go into these scenes. I see the ambiance. I see artwork. I see things that I would be exposed to in a real crime scene, which you may notice but you would notice if it wasn’t there. 

So, we’re advancing at a rate that is only creating an enhanced success for those that want to have field practical application when they finish their degree. And in the next 24 months, part of the five-year plan is: I have been here, I have seen it, I’ve been exposed. This is the best educational opportunity I’ve had to be successful when I graduate. I am confident and I will be the best investigator I can because of these experiences. That’s where I see this going. 

Steve Grubbs: That’s awesome. And you make an extremely good point. We’re always limited by the technology of today. So the graphics chips and the CPUs, the computer processing chips in the headsets are mobile chips, like very similar to those you would find in your phone. They’re not really high-end, high-power graphics chips that you would find in a $152,000 computer. 

So part of the art and science of what our team does is they figure out how to take really advanced graphical rooms and squeeze them down so it can be processed by the processors in those headsets. And as those processors get faster, as Qualcomm keeps developing better and better chips, we’re going to become extremely detailed, maybe too detailed in CSI for some people we’ll see. But the reality is they need to get used to that anyway if they’re going into that world. 

So we’re going to do the same thing in medicine and the whole deal. First of all, let me just finish by saying this: my team loved working with you. You were enjoyable, enthusiastic, so thank you and we look forward to working with you in the future. 

Susan Blankenship: We are really looking forward to this. We’ve had a great experience working on this so far. Your team, I come up with some outlandish things and I always tell your team, “If this is too much, push back” and they’ve yet to push back with me. So it’s been great. 

Steve Grubbs: It’s great. 

Justin Baumgartner: I would echo that this team is absolutely phenomenal to work with. There hasn’t been any item that they’re not willing to attempt to accomplish, and then when they accomplish it, it is far better than any expectation. 

Steve Grubbs: That’s great. Well, again, thank you and we will reconvene on this next year and talk about version three as we roll it out.

To all of our listeners, thank you for joining us on the VictoryXR Show. Tune in next week. We’ve got a really cool guest or guests because it’s not somebody outside the company, we’re actually going to be talking to three people within VictoryXR and how they are making all of this happen. 

So thank you, and we will talk to you soon.