Extending XR across Campus: Year 2 of the EDUCAUSE/HP Campus of the Future Project

Models of XR Deployment on Campus

Whether XR technology first came to campus under the radar or thanks to campus leadership, and whether that adoption was for an individual early adopter or a project, at some point the decision was made at most of the institutions in this study to promote the diffusion of XR technology more broadly. It is important to note, however, that no participating institution has yet tried to promote the diffusion of XR across the entire campus. Even at FIU and Hamilton College, institutions where XR technology is available to the entire campus community, the technology is not being pushed out. Users may come to the MBUS at FIU or the Hamilton libraries and use XR technology, but it is at the users' initiative rather than a case of MBUS or library staff actively promoting the technology. To make more students aware of the technology, however, MBUS staff members request class time from interested faculty members so that they can present demonstrations. At Wake Tech Community College and the Foothill-De Anza Community College District, where the CIOs actively sought out faculty interested in using XR, these CIOs are not trying to recruit all faculty to use XR. In the early stages of introducing any new technology to campus, it is always a few early adopters who provide proofs of concept for using the technology on campus.

However XR technology first came to campus, and at whatever scale, it takes time for XR technology to be meaningfully deployed. This is due to several factors: overcoming the inevitable technical difficulties of setting up any new technology, the equally inevitable learning curve for new technology, and identifying how to integrate a new technology into teaching in a pedagogically meaningful way.1 Institutions at which XR technology is new, or that have not yet implemented XR technology but wish to do so, will not have had time to clear all of these hurdles. Therefore, an important question is, What information and resources do institutions that are new to XR technology need to scale up or facilitate the deployment of XR on campus?

The very short answer is case studies. It is time-consuming and expensive to do anything from scratch. Fortunately, no institution of higher education needs to figure out how to deploy XR technology from scratch because other institutions have already been down that road. This section provides some illustrative case studies—examples of deployment of XR technology—from institutions that have already begun that journey and draws out lessons learned and guidance for institutions that are at earlier stages of deployment.

The Special Initiative

Yale University and HP partnered to explore applications of XR technology on campus even before the launch of the Campus of the Future project. Yale is therefore a useful example of one model of campus XR deployment because its deployment preceded that of all other institutions participating in this study—and of most other institutions of higher education in the United States.

Yale deployed XR technology using a time-honored methodology in higher education for deploying new technologies on campuses: the "special initiative." Initiatives have been used with great success to introduce all manner of technologies to institutions of higher education, from electronic transcripts to iPods and iPads to the LMS to digital credentials.2 Readers who have ever been employed by an institution of higher education have at some point probably participated in or at least borne witness to a campus technology initiative. Special initiatives are essentially pilot programs; they have the advantage of promoting adoption of a technology but in a controlled fashion, limiting its diffusion as the responsible campus unit gains experience with the requirements of its deployment and support.

The Blended Reality Applied Research Project at Yale focused on projects and their uses of XR technology. Early in the 2016–17 academic year, a faculty steering committee solicited proposals from across campus "to test hypotheses and investigate the possibilities and limits of hardware and software."3 While the researchers on these projects spanned campus units, the Blended Reality Applied Research Project itself was staffed by employees in Yale University Information Technology Services and in the Center for Collaborative Arts and Media, a campus studio for exploration of the intersection of the humanities and computer science, under the Yale School of Art. The Yale Blended Reality Project is now in its fourth year, with three annual reports.

The Campus of the Future XR Research Project at Hamilton College in some ways resembles the Yale Blended Reality Applied Research Project. The Digital Pedagogy Fellowships at Hamilton are two-year small grants to faculty to develop projects integrating XR into courses. Depending on the nature of the project, faculty fellows may work with instructional designers, librarians, or others from the Hamilton Library & IT Services (LITS) unit. While oversight of the Yale Blended Reality Project spanned multiple campus units, oversight of the XR Research Project at Hamilton was entirely by the LITS unit. Hamilton is much smaller than Yale (Yale has approximately 13,000 students and 5,000 full-time faculty; Hamilton has approximately 2,000 and 200, respectively), so naturally the organizational structure of these institutions differs. As a smaller institution, however, Hamilton had less need to filter projects and has therefore taken a more open approach, supporting under the LITS umbrella a very wide range of projects that use XR technology. Additionally, the service model of the LITS unit at Hamilton College is relatively "high touch," possibly an advantage of being a smaller institution. To offer similarly high-touch service around XR at Yale required a wide collaboration to draw in expertise from multiple units.

Familiarity with XR tools and technologies was not required for a project to be approved for the Yale or the Hamilton initiatives or to be supported by the PennImmersive initiative at the University of Pennsylvania; vision and imagination, however, were required. And this is a critical feature of these initiatives—the decision to prioritize exploration over expertise. Indeed, both Yale and Penn use similar language; Yale refers to their initiative as "an applied research program to explore the area of blended reality," and Penn describes it as a "public research project to explore the potential" of XR technologies. This framing of the special initiative as research and exploration is important for gaining acceptance for a new technology on campus. Research is close to the hearts of many faculty members in higher education (and of many administrators as well, some of whom used to be faculty), and institutional research is a critical part of decision-making at most institutions of higher education. Research is therefore a useful frame for pitching any innovation to the campus community. Despite being hotbeds of innovation, however, institutions of higher education are often slow to change, as are many large organizations. Framing XR technology as exploratory, therefore, provides time for it to build and gain acceptance and use cases on campus, as well as time for the responsible campus unit to gain experience with supporting the technology.

Part of gaining experience with supporting XR technology is identifying the specific requirements of specific projects. Another part of gaining this experience is identifying the kinds of use cases that might emerge from the campus community. The PennImmersive research project prioritized this approach. As Yale and Hamilton did with their initiatives, PennImmersive provided support for XR projects on campus. Unlike those initiatives, however, PennImmersive's major focus was a series of open house events on campus (figure 1) to provide an opportunity for members of the campus community, especially those who may not have used it before, to use various XR technologies.4 These events were well attended—indeed better attended than even the Penn Libraries staff anticipated—and led to an outpouring of questions about what XR technology workshops would be offered in the future, along with requests for specific examples of XR use for teaching and learning. The PennImmersive open house events were highly planned, reminiscent of the exhibitor floor at a conference, with schedules of presentations and demos. Not all institutions hosted such formal events as part of their special initiatives. But technology showcases, whether formal or informal, conference-like or pop-up events on the quad, enable members of the campus community to use a new technology and to start imagining future uses for that technology.

Student using XR equipment 
Figure 1. PennImmersive Technology Open House
Image courtesy of Penn Libraries

Service Integration

The previous section pointed out that libraries figure largely in campus technology initiatives. The initiatives at Hamilton College and the University of Pennsylvania were overseen by groups within those institutions' libraries, and even though the project at Yale University was overseen by Information Technology Services, some of the space dedicated to the project was within the main campus library. Libraries often oversee campus technology initiatives for at least two reasons: first, libraries historically have been early adopters of technology on campus; second, since the mid-1980s many academic libraries and campus IT units have merged, a phenomenon that the community has been following since long before EDUCAUSE even came into existence with the merger of Educom and CAUSE.5 Some of the institutions that participated in this study have combined their libraries and IT units,6 so it was natural at those institutions for a campus technology initiative to be based in the library.

Academic libraries are not just the site of technology initiatives, however. Libraries also are often the provider of technology services offered to the campus community. North Carolina State University7 has an extensive technology lending program whereby any member of the campus community can check out a wide range of technologies from the library: digital cameras and 360° video equipment, microphones, handheld microscopes, laptops and tablets, video game controllers, even Raspberry Pi and Arduino kits. The NCSU Libraries also lend a range of XR technologies, including several models of VR headsets and handheld controllers, Magic Leap headsets, and eye-tracking hardware. In addition, the NCSU Library offers workshops, including "Getting Started with AR" and an orientation session for its VR studio. Specialty technology consultation, whereby a tech advisor provides one-on-one help to students and faculty, is also available.

Libraries are not the only campus units that provide innovative technology services. MBUS, located within the College of Communication, Architecture + The Arts at Florida International University, refers to itself as a "'collider' for people and ideas in arts, design, technology, and the sciences." It is a 16,000-square-foot makerspace-like facility containing a wide range of equipment, from computers and software to 3D printers and scanners to laser cutters. MBUS and all of the equipment within is accessible to all members of the FIU campus community, as well as to residents of surrounding Miami-Dade County. MBUS staff provide support for all equipment and offer scheduled workshops on a variety of topics, both in MBUS and at sites within the university and across the county. In short, MBUS provides technology that is introduced widely but is to be used locally—that is, within the (admittedly large) MBUS space itself, where the interdisciplinary experience is prioritized.

On the other hand, Bucks Innovate, a unit of Bucks County Community College, does not use technology locally but instead takes it on the road. Bucks Innovate offers corporate training programs on a variety of topics and recently ran an event titled Bridging the Generation Gap in the Workplace, which included a technology showcase that enabled participants to test XR technologies. This event was geared toward "C-suite" organizational leaders to enable those who might not have previously used XR technology to experience it and to explore how it might be used in their organizational context—for example, recruiting and retaining new employees (particularly young employees) as well as determining what training will be necessary within their organization. Importantly, Bucks Innovate was already an established unit at Bucks County Community College prior to this event, with the capacity to offer training programs using various technologies. While Bridging the Generation Gap was a one-time event, its success means that similar events are likely to be offered. It is therefore likely that XR will become integrated into the suite of services offered by Bucks Innovate.

Bucks has integrated XR into its services in other ways as well, perhaps the most public being an interactive campus tour using 360° video. Syracuse University has done the same, as have many other institutions.8 Like the Bucks Innovate technology showcase, these virtual campus tours are designed for recruitment, which is the purpose of any campus tour. Institutions providing virtual campus tours, like the other use cases discussed in this section, have integrated XR into existing services provided by well-established campus units.


The special initiative model requires that one or more campus units take ownership of XR deployment on campus. The service integration model requires that one or more campus units provide services around XR technologies. But what if no campus unit is ready to take this on?

The cases of Syracuse University and Columbia University provide excellent examples of this situation. At both universities, some faculty members were using XR in their teaching and research projects even before those institutions joined the Campus of the Future project. At Syracuse, XR use spanned a diverse range of academic units: the S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications, the School of Architecture, and the College of Visual and Performing Arts. At Columbia, XR use on campus was concentrated mostly in the lab of one computer science professor with a long career of research and development in augmented reality.

At Syracuse, a few faculty members with an interest in XR started meeting informally in the 2017–18 academic year, calling themselves the "VR and Beers" group. Their purpose was (and remains) to discuss ideas for using XR technology in the classroom and as a research front, and to support each other in their efforts. The VR and Beers group has grown over time, from a handful of individuals to 25 or 30 people as of this writing. The group has also increased the scope of its efforts. Several members have submitted grant applications for XR-related projects, and the group has held a few events to showcase XR technology on campus, including pop-up events on the campus quad and at community events off campus. A recent XR showcase event was held specifically for campus leadership, including deans and members of the Office of the CIO.

Up to that point, most of the uses of XR on campus had been under the radar, individual projects by individual early adopters, outside of any institutional support. The XR showcase for campus leadership provided a dramatic demonstration of what is possible with XR at Syracuse. These proofs of concept enabled the VR and Beers group to articulate to campus leadership their vision for continuing work with XR on campus and to ask for resources to continue this work.

"When the train is already in motion, it's harder to say stop."
Jason Webb, Instructional Analyst, Syracuse University

More or less at the same time that the VR and Beers group was formed at Syracuse, the Emerging Technologies Consortium was formed at Columbia. The ETC focus differs from the efforts at Syracuse in two important ways: first, it has a broader scope, encompassing all emerging technologies, including XR as well as artificial intelligence, machine learning, and robotics; second, the ETC was a more formalized project from the start (no beer apparently having been involved) and enjoyed support from the Office of the CIO from its inception, in the form of funding and a director. Even so, the VR and Beers group and the ETC have followed similar life-cycle arcs, starting with only a few interested faculty members and expanding their communities of interest several-fold over a mere two to three academic years. Also like VR and Beers, the ETC has hosted several events on campus to showcase XR technology to the campus community, but by having some institutional funding, some of these events were able to include speakers from notable technology companies for keynotes and panel discussions.

As of this writing, the VR and Beers group has been made "official": the Office of the CIO has given the okay to building a centralized support mechanism under the campus IT unit for XR technology, with the promise of further resources in the future. In other words, there is now a nascent special initiative around XR at Syracuse. Instead of this initiative originating in a campus unit, like the examples in the previous section, it built up from an interdisciplinary grassroots effort until it achieved critical mass and then was able to garner campus resources.


  1. Jeffrey Pomerantz, Learning in Three Dimensions: Report on the EDUCAUSE/HP Campus of the Future Project, research report (Louisville, CO: ECAR, August 2018).

  2. Dian Schaffhauser, "Wisconsin Launches E-Transcript Initiative," Campus Technology, August 17, 2009; Belanger, "Duke University iPod First-Year Experience Final Evaluation Report"; Leila Meyer, "Lynn U Expands iPad Initiative," Campus Technology, August 20, 2014; Caroline Corrigan, "ITS Votes to Transition from Blackboard to Sakai by 2014," The Daily Tarheel, September 18, 2010; "Fall 2015 Yale Canvas Pilot: Final Report of the Working Group," February 3, 2015; Rhea Kelly, "9 Universities to Collaborate on Digital Credentials Initiative," Campus Technology, April 23, 2019.

  3. Yale University, "A Year in the Blender," 2017.

  4. University of Pennsylvania Libraries, "PennImmersive Year in Review: 2017–2018," (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Libraries, August 2018).

  5. Raymond K. Neff, "Merging Libraries and Computer Centers: Manifest Destiny or Manifestly Deranged? An Academic Services Perspective," Educom Bulletin 20, no. 4 (Winter 1985): 8–12, 16; Steven Herro, "The Impact on User Services of Merging Academic Libraries and Computing Services," CAUSE/EFFECT 22, no. 3 (1999).

  6. Hamilton College in particular received some good press about its efforts to merge its library and IT services. See Carl Straumsheim, "Library Bound," Inside Higher Ed, December 4, 2015; and Dian Schaffhauser, "Why IT and the Library Should Work Together," Campus Technology, May 9, 2019.

  7. NCSU was not a participating institution in the HP Campus of the Future initiative, in that HP did not provide XR hardware to NCSU prior to this study. However, NCSU features in this study because it has a unique service model for providing access to XR technology on campus, a service model that we at ECAR are not aware of at any other institution.

  8. Josh Moody, "How to Make the Most of Virtual College Tours," U.S. News & World Report, July 30, 2019.