Learning in Three Dimensions: Report on the EDUCAUSE/HP Campus of the Future Project

Jeffrey Pomerantz, Simmons College

Executive Summary

Extended reality (XR)—a wide range of technologies along a continuum, with the real world at one end and fully immersive simulations at the other—is having a dramatic impact on pedagogy in higher education. To explore the potential of XR technologies in higher education, EDUCAUSE and HP collaborated on the Campus of the Future: 3D Technologies in Academe project, focusing on those XR technologies encompassing 3D simulations, modeling, and production. This project sought to identify current innovative uses of these 3D technologies, how these uses are currently impacting teaching and learning, and what this information can tell us about possible future uses for these technologies in higher education.

This report describes a wide range of pedagogical uses of 3D tech in higher education, from augmenting experiences in the physical world to creating simulations of things that are inaccessible in the physical world, and from designing virtual things that may be made into physical things to repeating experiences virtually that cannot be repeated in the physical world. The report also discusses hurdles in implementing 3D technology and the possible future of 3D technology in higher education, and it makes recommendations—in terms of technical requirements, support needs, and organizational policies—for institutions wishing to deploy 3D technology on campus.

The Campus of the Future project sought to identify interesting and novel uses of 3D technology at the institutions participating in this project, and, more broadly, to identify types of uses of 3D technologies that hold the greatest potential for learning and research outcomes. Two findings of this exploratory evaluation are that 3D technologies enable active and experiential learning, and they promote shared experiences and collaboration. Furthermore, 3D technologies support a wide range of learning goals across a wide range of disciplines; this report articulates some of these learning goals and the 3D technologies that effectively support them.

Key Findings

  • 3D technologies give users virtual superpowers. In a virtual reality (VR) simulation, a user can fly like Iron Man, have superstrength like Wonder Woman, and walk through walls like Kitty Pryde. VR and augmented reality (AR) give users X-ray vision like Superman's. VR and 3D printing give users the ability to manipulate very small objects, like Ant-Man and the Wasp; to manipulate energy, like Magneto; and to create objects from empty space, like Doctor Manhattan and Elsa of Arendelle.
  • VR is like being there. A well-constructed simulation is visceral: One's intellectual and physiological reactions to objects and events in VR are similar—and sometimes identical—to one's reactions in the physical world.
  • VR and AR are multisensory experiences. Much VR and AR development focuses on the visual functionality of those technologies, but they are capable of more. The auditory functionality of VR and the haptic functionality of both VR and AR are critical for creating a realistic simulation.
  • 3D technologies enable active and experiential learning. Virtual reality simulations enable users to interact in a space or around an object in ways beyond what is possible in the real world. Augmented reality enables users to interact with an object while possessing “superpowers,” such as the ability to see through surfaces or to see data overlying objects. With 3D printing, users can quickly create physical objects that might otherwise exist only in simulations. These functionalities enable users to gain hands-on experience with objects that might otherwise be inaccessible in teaching and learning contexts.
  • Simulations enable individual practice and skill-building. In the medical professions, for example, VR enables students to repeat hands-on experiences that might not otherwise be possible (e.g., repeating a dissection multiple times) and to experience events that they might not otherwise be able to (e.g., diagnosing a rare condition, testing specific types of emergency medicine). Through repeated practice, students emerge more skilled.
  • Simulations enable high-touch, high-cost learning experiences to be scaled up. While developing a simulated lab may be expensive, it is far less expensive than building and maintaining a physical lab. Furthermore, a simulated lab can be made available to individuals who are not co-located. VR and 3D printing therefore make it possible to provide lab experiences to a far greater number of users, perhaps even simultaneously.
  • 3D technologies foster and sometimes require collaboration between campus units. The deployment of new technologies often fosters new collaborations across campus. Supporting users of 3D technology on campus requires a range of expertise, which encourages (if not requires) collaboration between campus IT units and instructional designers. The use of 3D technology has also fostered collaborations involving students and faculty across academic disciplines.
  • Training is critical. Some early adopters on campus will teach themselves to use 3D technology, but many campus users will need support to learn to use this technology. The development of training sessions and workshops on 3D technology–related topics is critical for these technologies to gain traction on campus beyond the rarefied circles of early adopters.
  • It takes time for the benefits of 3D technology to be realized on campus. While 3D technology is getting easier to use, it must still be set up and configured; software must be installed and possibly updated. Furthermore, users need time to learn to use the technology, and instructors need time to figure out how to use the technology in their teaching. Courses take months to be redesigned. The first year of deployment of 3D technology may be largely devoted to learning to use and integrate it into teaching and support practices; it may take until year two for the full benefits of using 3D technology on campus to be realized.


The EDUCAUSE Center for Analysis and Research (ECAR) team wishes to thank HP for sponsoring this project, and in particular Gus Schmedlen, Vice President, HP Worldwide Education, for being a valuable partner on this project. Thanks to all of the institutions that participated in the Campus of the Future project. In particular, thanks to the faculty, students, and staff who participated in the many projects at all of these institutions: Without your spirit of experimentation, the project would not have happened. In particular, thanks to Randall Rode and the entire Blended Reality Research Project team at Yale for being out front. Finally, thanks to several longtime and valued colleagues for being a sounding board during the early stages of my writing this report, and for letting me pick your brains about the 3D technology work your institutions are involved in: Kimberly Eke, Associate University Librarian for Teaching, Research, & Learning Services at the University of Pennsylvania Libraries; David Woodbury, Department Head of Learning Spaces & Services, and Adam Rogers, Head of Making & Innovation Studio, at the NC State University Libraries; Shawn Miller, Director of Learning Innovation, and Elizabeth Evans, Manager of the Duke Digital Initiative, at Duke University; and Hunter Janes, data scientist and game designer at Red Storm Entertainment, Inc.

Learn More

Access additional materials, including a blog series on the campus case studies, on the EDUCAUSE/HP project research hub at https://www.educause.edu/hp-xr.


© 2018 Jeffrey Pomerantz. The text of this work is licensed under a Creative Commons BY-NC-ND 4.0 International License.

Citation for this work
Jeffrey Pomerantz. Learning in Three Dimensions: Report on the EDUCAUSE/HP Campus of the Future Project. Research report. Louisville, CO: ECAR, August 2018.