Project Description

The Campus of the Future project was an exploratory evaluation of 3D technologies for instruction and research in higher education: VR, AR, 3D scanning, and 3D printing. The project sought to identify interesting and novel uses of 3D technology at the institutions participating in this project, and, more broadly, to identify uses of 3D technologies that hold the greatest potential for learning and research outcomes. The evaluation questions motivating this project were twofold:

  • What educational activities lend themselves to the use of 3D technologies?
  • What are the most effective 3D technologies for various learning goals?

This project is not the first effort to integrate VR, AR, or 3D printing and scanning technologies into educational experiences. Prior work exists in both K–121 and higher education.2 For the most part, however, this prior work reports on the integration of 3D technologies into individual courses, though the range of courses is quite broad: from the sorts of technical courses one might expect, such as programming, game and app development, and other computer science courses, to perhaps less obvious subjects such as courses on visual arts, biodiversity, and cultural studies.3 The Campus of the Future project is, however, the broadest project to study the integration of 3D technologies into education that we are aware of, spanning a larger and more diverse sample of institutions and learning environments and reaching a larger number of users.

HP approached EDUCAUSE in early 2017 about conducting this evaluation, and the following parameters were established: HP would provide the hardware, and EDUCAUSE would provide the methodological expertise to conduct an evaluation research project investigating the potential uses of 3D technologies in higher education learning and research. HP, keenly aware of the risk of sponsorship bias4 (even the perception of bias), gave EDUCAUSE maximum latitude in carrying out this project. While most of the technology provided for this project was HP-branded, and HP provided technical support to participating institutions, EDUCAUSE distributed this technology to participating institutions and was their primary point of contact. More importantly, EDUCAUSE developed the methodology for this evaluation and conducted all data collection and analysis entirely independently.

The institutions that participated in the Campus of the Future project were selected because they were already on the cutting edge of integrating 3D technology into pedagogy. These institutions were therefore not representative, nor were they intended to be representative, of the state of higher education in the United States. These institutions were selected precisely because they already had a set of use cases for 3D technology available for study (though naturally additional uses emerged at nearly all institutions over the course of this project). The reason for selecting a nonrepresentative sample such as this was to identify the leading edge of the use of this technology in higher education and to thereby attempt to project the future of 3D technology in higher education.

Participating institutions were expected to use the provided technology to conduct an active exploration of 3D technologies in the classroom, as a component of research projects, or both. These explorations naturally involved both faculty and staff at each institution, as it is faculty who develop course syllabi and assignments, while staff in IT units and campus centers for teaching and learning provide technology support to those faculty. Participating institutions were also expected to include graduate and/or undergraduate students in these explorations, either to address a component of their coursework or as research assistants.

HP has a longstanding Education solutions division, which routinely partners with educational institutions on innovative projects. HP has also been developing 3D technology for several years. The Campus of the Future project is in fact not HP's first project in this space: A collaboration between HP and Yale University predates this project by a year and was, in a way, a pilot for this project. At the start of the 2016–17 academic year, HP provided Yale with 5 Sprout Pro G2 computers and 20 Dremel Idea Builder 3D printers (the same pieces of equipment received by participants in this project), and student- and faculty-led project teams were selected to participate. The projects were selected by a faculty steering committee with one major criterion in mind: Could the experiences—and, in some instances, the results of these endeavors—point to new ways of thinking and creating for artists, designers, researchers, scholars, and scientists? The results, experiences, and lessons learned from the Yale project were detailed in the report A Year in the Blender: Practical Applications of 3D in Virtual, Mixed and Printed Forms from Yale University's Blended Reality Applied Research Project, as well as on a project blog. Many of the lessons learned by Yale during the Blended Reality project, both the good and the bad, played out over the course of this project.

Participating Institutions

Eleven US institutions of higher education participated in the 2017–18 Campus of the Future project:

The makeup of these participating institutions was as follows:5

  • All were four-year institutions.
  • Most were doctoral universities, except for one master's institution (Gallaudet) and one baccalaureate institution (Hamilton).
  • About two-thirds were majority or exclusively undergraduate institutions; about one-third were majority graduate institutions.
  • Most institutions have high research activity, except for one liberal arts–focused institution (Hamilton).
  • Most were private nonprofit institutions, except for Florida International University (FIU), which is a large public land-grant institution.

At some institutions, the group participating in the project was an academic unit (e.g., the Newhouse School of Communications at Syracuse University; the Graduate School of Education at Harvard University). At these institutions, the 3D technology provided by HP was deployed for use more or less exclusively by students and faculty affiliated with the particular academic unit. At other institutions, the participating group was an administrative unit (e.g., Information Technology Services at Yale University; the Research & Instructional Design team within the Library & Information Technology Services unit at Hamilton College). Such units serve the entire institution and therefore made their 3D technology kit available for use by all students and faculty affiliated with the entire institution.6

At still other institutions, the participating group was a semi-autonomous campus unit (e.g., The Wilbur Powerhouse at Lehigh University; the Miami Beach Urban Studios [MBUS] within the College of Communication, Architecture + The Arts [CARTA] at FIU). These facilities are shared spaces containing computers and other technology and are accessible to all in their respective campus communities. They might better be called makerspaces, and given that there is no widely agreed-on definition of what makerspace means, that is a legitimate generic term for them. However, these facilities go well beyond what one generally thinks of as a makerspace: The Wilbur Powerhouse occupies an entire 17,000-square-foot building and contains, among other hardware, laser cutters and a woodshop. The MBUS is an anchor institution in Miami-Dade County and, like other types of anchor institutions7 (such as museums), offers workshops and other programs that integrate into local K–12 education in the STEAM (science, technology, engineering, art, and mathematics) disciplines.

As mentioned earlier, the institutions that participated in the Campus of the Future project were not representative of the state of higher education in the United States or globally. The service models under which 3D technology was made available for use to the campus communities, however, spanned the range of approaches to technology deployment that are currently common in US higher education.


3D technologies are not new. Development of technology recognizable as virtual reality (VR) dates back to the Sword of Damocles head-mounted display system, developed by Ivan Sutherland in 1968,8 though non–computer scientists may be more familiar with Jaron Lanier and colleagues' work at VPL Research in the mid-1980s.9 Augmented reality (AR) technology arguably dates back even further, to the military's development of heads-up displays for fighter jet pilots in the 1950s.10 3D printing technology began in the 1980s with the development of rapid prototyping and stereolithography technology;11 the earliest 3D scanning dates back to the invention of LIDAR in the 1960s, although the close-range photogrammetry that we now think of as 3D scanning dates to the 1980s. These technologies are likely to be at least somewhat familiar to readers, even if they have seen only limited adoption in educational settings.

That said, however, there is not universal agreement on the definitions of these terms or on the scope of these technologies. Also, all of these technologies currently exist in an active marketplace and, as in many rapidly changing markets, there is a tendency for companies to invent neologisms around 3D technology. This section briefly defines the 3D technology terms used throughout this report. See the appendix for detailed descriptions of the equipment supplied by HP and deployed by institutions participating in the Campus of the Future project.

A 3D scanner is not a single device but rather a combination of hardware and software. There are generally two pieces of hardware: a laser scanner and a digital camera. The laser scanner bounces laser beams off the surface of an object to determine its shape and contours. This is similar to aircraft- and drone-based LIDAR platforms that are used to map features on the ground and which are increasingly being used in archaeology to discover sites hidden by tree cover12—the difference being, of course, that 3D scanning is done at much closer range. The digital camera takes more traditional photographs of the object; software then uses photogrammetry functionality to "wrap" these photos around the 3D model of the shape of the object.13 The size of the object being scanned may determine the hardware that can be used: A small object can be scanned by a desktop-sized rig (figure 1), while a large object (such as a statue or an assembled dinosaur skeleton in a museum) may require a rig mounted on a tripod or drone.

photo of a 3D desktop scanner for small objects
Figure 1. A 3D desktop scanner for small objects
Image courtesy of HP Inc.

Several types of 3D printers are available,14 but the Dremel Idea Builder printers provided to participants in the Campus of the Future project were of one type only: fused deposition modeling (FDM). FDM printers have a printhead that melts and extrudes plastic filament (which often comes in rolls); this melted plastic is printed on an x-y plane just as desktop printers layer ink on paper, but with the additional feature that plastic is printed in layers in the z-axis to create 3D objects. The thickness of the filament and the speed of printing affect the level of detail of the printed object: The finer the filament, the finer the level of detail that can be achieved.

Although multiple types of 3D scanners and 3D printers are on the market, these technologies are mature enough that the terminology around them has largely stabilized. This is unfortunately not yet the case with VR and AR, which are, furthermore, increasingly being considered merely as points along a "virtuality continuum" of extended reality (XR).15

Virtual reality means that the wearer is completely immersed in a computer simulation. Several types of VR headsets are currently available, but all involve a lightweight helmet with a display in front of the eyes (see figure 2). In some cases, this display may simply be a smartphone (e.g., Google Cardboard); in other cases, two displays—one for each eye—are integrated into the headset (e.g., HTC Vive). Most commercially available VR rigs also include handheld controllers that enable the user to interact with the simulation by moving the controllers in space and clicking on finger triggers or buttons. VR is an active area of game development; readers may even have played such games as Star Trek: Bridge Crew or Fallout.

photo of a man wearing a virtual reality headset
Figure 2. A virtual reality headset
Image courtesy of HP Inc.

Augmented reality provides an "overlay" of some type over the real world through the use of a headset or even a smartphone. Readers may also have had personal experience with AR, through enhanced exhibits in museums, such as the Skin & Bones exhibit at the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History, or through virtual tours of cities, such as CHICAGO 00. Pokémon GO, a popular AR game, is also likely to be familiar to the reader. AR can be implemented in two primary ways: on a smartphone or other mobile device (e.g., Pokémon GO) or via a heads-up display (HUD), widely used in aircraft and increasingly in cars.

In an active technology marketplace, there is a tendency for new terms to be invented rapidly and for existing terms to be used loosely. This is currently happening in the VR and AR market space. The HP VR rig and the HTC Vive unit are marketed as being immersive, meaning that the user is fully immersed in a simulation—virtual reality. Many currently available AR headsets, however, are marketed not as AR but rather as MR (mixed reality). These MR headsets have a display in front of the eyes as well as a pair of front-mounted cameras; they are therefore capable of supporting both VR and AR functionality.


  1. L. Castaneda, A. Cechony, and A. Bautista, All-School Aggregated Findings, Virtual Reality, 2016–2017. foundry10, Seattle, WA (2017).

  2. Virtual Reality, Distance Education and Learning Technology Applications (DELTA), North Carolina State University.

  3. Charity Hancock, Clifford Hichar, Carlea Holl-Jensen, Kari Kraus, Cameron Mozafari, and Kathryn Skutlin, "Bibliocircuitry and the Design of the Alien Everyday," Textual Cultures: Texts, Contexts, Interpretation 8, no. 1 (2014): 72–100.

  4. Sheldon Krimsky, "Do Financial Conflicts of Interest Bias Research? An Inquiry into the 'Funding Effect' Hypothesis," Science, Technology & Human Values 38, no. 4 (2013): 566–87.

  5. This analysis was conducted using variables from the Carnegie Classification of Institutions of Higher Education, 2015 Update Public File. Since the Carnegie Classification data includes only institutions in the United States, and since non-US institutions of higher education are generally organized differently from US institutions, this analysis includes only the US institutions that participated in this project.

  6. Other institutions, beyond the current project participants, also have campus units with similar scope; for example, the PennImmersive initiative at the University of Pennsylvania.

  7. Neil Kleiman, "Striking a (Local) Grand Bargain," National Resource Network (2015).

  8. Howard Rheingold, Virtual Reality (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1992).

  9. Simon Parkin, "Virtual Reality Startups Look Back to the Future," MIT Technology Review (March 7, 2014).

  10. "Windshield TV Screen to Aid Blind Flying," Popular Mechanics (March 1955): 101.

  11. Joan Horvath, "A Brief History of 3D Printing," in Mastering 3D Printing (Berkeley, CA: Apress, 2014).

  12. Mark Horton, "Meet LiDAR: The Amazing Laser Technology That's Helping Archaeologists Discover Lost Cities," Scientific American (June 15, 2016).

  13. EDUCAUSE Learning Initiative, 7 Things You Should Know about Photogrammetry, January 9, 2018.

  14. Jason Griffey, "3-D Printers for Libraries, 2017 Edition," Library Technology Reports 53, no. 5 (2017): 1–30.

  15. Sivaramakirshnan Somasegar and Linda Lian, XR Is a New Way to Consider the Reality Continuum, TechCrunch (May 2, 2017); What Really Is the Difference between AR/MR/VR/XR? North of 41 (March 20, 2018).