Every institution of higher education is unique in terms of its organizational structure and the resources dedicated to IT and support for teaching and learning. Some of the examples and lessons learned that have been discussed in this report will therefore not be applicable to all institutions. Nevertheless, all recommendations are presented here for institutions of higher education that are interested in deploying 3D technologies, with the understanding that your mileage may vary.
Concerning the Organizational Structure of Institutions of Higher Education
- Provide adequate time and resources for setting up 3D technology. Even prior to these tools getting used, hardware must be set up and software installed and possibly updated, which may require the involvement of IT staff. If 3D technology is going to be used during a specific semester, it is best to start setting up that equipment well in advance, several months before the start of the semester.
- Provide adequate time for faculty to adopt 3D technology. Faculty may not complete revisions to their syllabi until days before the semester starts, but they are often thinking about and planning those revisions months ahead of time. Faculty require at least a semester's lead time to implement any new technology in the context of a course, as it is challenging to change or implement new tools midsemester.
- Provide adequate resources to faculty during their adoption of 3D technology. Even early adopter faculty can benefit from support from instructional designers and instructional technologists when planning how to appropriately deploy 3D technology in a course. Indeed, early adopters in particular may get caught up in the "wow factor" of new technology; working with instructional designers and instructional technologists may help keep their focus on the pedagogical efficacy of that technology. These consultations can take many forms: one-on-one consultations, small group training sessions, larger group workshops, and "train the trainers" programs in which early adopter faculty mentor their colleagues.1
- Allocate a budget to 3D technology initiatives. Institutions of higher education often allocate a budget to new technology initiatives, and this is no different. Supporting the adoption of 3D technology on campus requires staff support from the campus IT unit, instructional designers and instructional technologists, and other instructor support units on campus, at least initially. These campus units may need to devote staff time for consulting with faculty and students and for developing training sessions and workshops. Furthermore, if the institution is attempting to encourage adoption of 3D technology (or any new technology), prior EDUCAUSE research has shown that stipends and especially course release time are effective motivators for faculty.2
- Consider new staffing models for providing support. Supporting faculty may require high-touch consultations. Supporting students may require staffing after regular business hours. Supporting students is critical, as it is a matter of equity of opportunity. Students with different backgrounds and experiences will come to campus with different levels of comfort with 3D technology and varying levels of ability to learn it on their own. These high-touch support mechanisms all require staff time and perhaps changes to staffing models at the institution.
- Develop mechanisms for campus IT and instructional design staff to collaborate. Every institution of higher education has a slightly different organizational structure, of course, but campus IT and instructional designers are often siloed. Nevertheless, IT and teaching and learning staff are almost compelled to collaborate in order to provide support to faculty who want to integrate 3D technology into their teaching. Many mechanisms might be developed to facilitate collaboration between staff in these campus units: standing meetings, shared project leadership across campus units, codevelopment of workshops and other training programs, and even physical proximity of office space on campus.
- Hire or train developers and designers. In some ways this is a subset of the above recommendation concerning budget allocation, as hiring and training staff obviously has budget implications. But this recommendation is more than budgetary. If an institution wants to deploy 3D technology widely and to have faculty integrate it into their courses, the institution must hire dedicated staff or provide professional learning opportunities for current staff to develop expertise with this technology. Specifically, an institution needs software developers and game designers. Instructional designers can help faculty to develop pedagogically sound uses for 3D technology in their courses, but they may lack the skills to help faculty deploy this technology. IT staff may have the deployment skills but lack the skills to develop new tools, such as simulations and models in platforms such as Unreal Engine and Steam. Instructional designers may understand the uses of learning analytics and the gamification of learning, but game designers can bring to the table engagement analytics and an understanding of gamification honed in the game industry. Collaboration between IT staff, instructional designers, software developers, and game designers has the potential to enable extremely creative uses of 3D technology in teaching and learning, and across campus.
- Hire a project manager. New technology initiatives at institutions of higher education are complex undertakings requiring collaboration across campus units that may not have a history of collaboration. Furthermore, such initiatives are often subdivided into subprojects—small research grants, course development, etc.—some of which will need more support than others. A large umbrella project with many moving parts benefits from a dedicated, at least part-time, project manager. As 3D technology is integrated into the normal operation of whatever campus unit(s) it ultimately falls under, a dedicated project manager may not be necessary. But the position is extremely valuable at the new technology initiative stage.
- House 3D technology in public spaces. In general, the more publicly accessible a technology is on campus, the more use it gets. Participating institutions in the Campus of the Future project that made 3D technology available in public spaces (e.g., a makerspace, a library, a dedicated media lab space) found that it got more use, particularly by students; institutions that made 3D technology available only behind locked doors or with permission of a faculty or IT staff member unsurprisingly found that it got less use. If an institution wishes to promote the use of 3D technology, and particularly to encourage student experimentation with this technology, it should make the technology as publicly available as possible. "As possible" is, of course, the tricky part: Institutions naturally need to ensure the security of their technology. And students often work late into the night, on weekends, etc., so the staffing of these public spaces is an issue that may need to be addressed by the institution.
- Work toward integrating 3D technology into institutional operations. Institutions of higher education often allocate a budget and staffing to new technology initiatives, but initiatives eventually end. An initiative is useful as a proof of concept, giving new technologies time to gain traction on campus and serving as a mechanism to experiment with new staffing models. But once 3D technology has become relatively widespread on campus, it must become part of the operations of IT units, instructional design staff, and other appropriate campus units. Moreover, it must be explicitly aligned with the institution's strategic goals and its teaching and learning mission. It may, of course, take several years for a new technology to move from initiative to operational. But 3D technology will ultimately move that way, just as the LMS, mobile devices, laptops, and many other technologies have before.
Concerning Development and Implementation of 3D Technology
- Develop policies for the campus community around 3D technology. Technologies tend to get less expensive and easier to use as time goes on, and this has certainly been the case with 3D technology, even as adoption on campus has increased. As this continues, the technology will inevitably be adopted by more users on campus. Even if a campus IT department does not support 3D technology, its increased use at least requires the development of relevant policies. In this way, 3D technology may be like smartphones or other common consumer technologies: Campus IT departments often do not support smartphones, but there are policies regarding their use on campus—for example, requiring the use of a secure Wi-Fi network or prohibiting access to secure data on mobile devices.
- Provide support to the campus community for 3D technology. As 3D technology gets less expensive and easier to use, its adoption on campus will increase, and as that happens the more sophisticated its uses will become. As with any technology, as users learn to use 3D technology, some will think of more and more sophisticated things to do with it, and some will want to develop tools that do not yet exist. Support for 3D technology will require both collaboration across campus units and high-touch service for at least some users. Institutions must consider the level of service around 3D technology that it is feasible for staff to provide.
- Provide differentiated levels of support for different use cases. There is an important distinction with 3D technology (as with all media) between content consumption and content creation, which require different types of user support. Those wishing to use preexisting VR simulations, or AR layers, or to print existing 3D models may need assistance to find such resources, technical support to deploy them, or instructional design support to integrate them into their teaching. A user wishing to develop new simulations or models, on the other hand, requires a much deeper and more technically involved level of support, perhaps even requiring software development expertise. Institutions must be able to staff IT units and centers for teaching and learning appropriately for existing and future use cases on campus.
- Provide support for 360-degree video. A 360-degree video camera (such as the GoPro Omni) is relatively inexpensive, and 360-degree video is a relatively low-bar mechanism to get into production of VR simulations. A 360-degree video is not a full VR simulation, because it is "flat" and not interactive. But it is possible to create simple simulations using 360-degree panoramas, and 360-degree cameras are easily available commercially and relatively inexpensive. IT units, libraries, or makerspaces supporting 3D technology on campus may wish to purchase some 360-degree cameras and provide some support for their use (training, workshops, instructional design support, etc.) to the campus community.
- Provide support for 3D modeling tools. Many online repositories exist where users can find preexisting 3D models: Thingiverse, Sketchfab, and Google Poly, among many others. There are also many applications (both commercial and free) for creating new 3D models and manipulating existing ones. IT units, libraries, or makerspaces supporting 3D technology on campus may wish to provide support (training, workshops, instructional design support, etc.) to the campus community in the use of these sites and applications.
- Develop curricula for training sessions and workshops, and standards for support of 3D technology. Early adopters of 3D technology on campus may require a great deal of support, or very little. Either way, these early adopter users are unusual. As the use of 3D technology becomes more widespread on campus, more users will require training and support. Institutions must develop curricula for training sessions on 3D technology-related topics, and standards for the level of support that can be provided to users of the technology. These training sessions and policies must of course be customized to the particular context: user, academic discipline, etc.
- Integrate 3D technology into the curricula of academic programs. Technology that is used in courses sees the most use. This is unsurprising, as such technology is integrated into both students' and instructors' work. This suggests, however, that if it is an institutional goal to increase the use of 3D technology (or any technology) on campus, an important strategy is to encourage its adoption into courses and within academic programs. The lower bar is to integrate 3D technology into courses first, by working with early adopter instructors. Once the success of those integrations has been demonstrated, it will be easier to integrate this technology into entire programs.
- Encourage community building and word of mouth. The example of Hamilton College makes for an excellent case study here. Hamilton is smaller than any of the other participants in this project3 and yet had more projects ongoing throughout the duration of this study than any other participating institution except Yale, which had been working with 3D technology for a year longer than any other participant. How did this come to pass? The project team at Hamilton puts it down to good old-fashioned grassroots outreach and word of mouth. Grassroots outreach may be easier to achieve at a small institution, where it may be more feasible for the staff of the IT unit and the center for teaching and learning to provide high-touch services. Even at very large institutions, however, grassroots outreach is both possible and desirable, achievable largely by leveraging the inherent communities within academic and other campus units and identifying faculty and other individuals who are "network hubs"—both formal and informal leaders on campus.
- Deploy easy-to-use platforms for instructors who want to develop 3D models and simulations. Early adopter faculty may be willing to spend the time to learn to use tools for 3D modeling and creating AR layers. But many more faculty are less willing or able to do so. To encourage widespread adoption of 3D technology, easy-to-use tools must exist. Just as LMSs are so easy to use that faculty can (mostly) develop their own course shells with little or no assistance, so too must 3D technology become easy to use. This report has identified many tools currently available for VR, AR, and 3D scanning. But few of these are specific to developing educational simulations or learning objects. Development of such a platform, targeted at the education sector, would probably not be a task for a single institution; rather it should probably be taken on by a consortium of institutions (as was development of the Sakai LMS, for example) or a collaboration between a commercial software company and an open-source development community (as was the Canvas LMS).
Pomerantz and Brooks, ECAR Study of Faculty and Information Technology, 2017.↩︎
According to data from the National Center for Education Statistics, Hamilton College had a total enrollment of 1,883 in fall 2016 (the most recent NCES data available). Compare this to Harvard or Syracuse University, with enrollments in the tens of thousands. Even Dartmouth, the next smallest institution that participated in this project, had more than double the enrollment, at 6,409 in fall 2016.↩︎